BAGHDAD – The head of the Iraqi parliament’s largest Sunni Arab bloc was gunned down by a teenager Friday after delivering a prayer sermon.
The killing raised fears the coming months will see a sharp rise in assassinations and other violence, as most American forces depart Iraq and campaigning intensifies with national elections scheduled for January.
The teenager opened fire on Harith Obeidi, who led the Iraqi Accordance Front bloc in parliament, at the Shawaf mosque compound in western Baghdad’s Yarmuk neighborhood.
Obeidi was shot twice in the head by the 15-year-old boy, who then opened fire on the lawmaker’s bodyguard and lobbed a hand grenade, a police official said. Mosque guards eventually gunned him down, but not before he had killed five people, including Obeidi, and wounded 12 more.
Accounts varied as police said Obeidi was shot after he had walked out of the mosque, while witnesses said the teenager barged inside and then opened fire and tossed the grenade.
Obeidi was dressed in a traditional white dishdasha robe and headdress as he issued a veiled criticism of the government in his sermon. He lashed out over the continuing detention of Iraqis, held with limited access to the Iraqi judiciary.
He had regularly championed the issue of Sunni prisoners who had languished in Iraqi prisons for years.
Politicians joined in condemning the attack. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed an investigation into the assassination and said the attack appeared to be meant to ignite sectarian strife.
Obeidi’s Accordance Front blamed the insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq for the attack.