Iraqi insurgents targeting local leaders


BAQOUBA, Iraq -- Even before the masked men wielding assault rifles stormed his home, stole his car and threatened to shoot him dead, Rasim Ismael Hamoud knew that serving in Iraq's government was a good way to get himself killed.

Guerrillas have assassinated more than seven officials in Diyala province, including two this month, since its regional council was inaugurated last June. And with insurgents ratcheting up their intimidation campaign ahead of national elections scheduled for Jan. 30, Hamoud and his colleagues fear the worst.

"If it continues to devastate us like this, we would resign, all of us," said Hamoud, who lives in Baqouba, the provincial capital about an hour's drive northeast of Baghdad. "We cannot work in these circumstances."

Determined to topple Iraq's interim government but unable to directly confront the U.S.-led forces that installed it, insurgent groups are hunting down local and national officials and attacking state security forces with alarming success.

Last week, guerrillas killed about 100 Iraqi police, soldiers and government officials, capping the week's violence yesterday with a series of abductions, assassinations and bombings.

The insurgents seized three provincial officials from Salahuddin, which is north of Baghdad and borders Diyala. They detonated a suicide bomb that killed four people and wounded 19 near a military checkpoint south of Baghdad. Gunmen shot dead a tribal leader in the capital. And in Baqouba, an Iraqi translator who worked with U.S. forces was seized in his home and beheaded, officials said.

On a road south of Baghdad, gunmen abducted a deputy provincial governor and two other senior officials, the Associated Press reported. And south of Kirkuk, gunmen kidnapped a representative of the Human Rights Organization in Iraq, police said.

Also yesterday, the U.S. military admitted it dropped a 500-pound bomb on the wrong house outside the northern city of Mosul. The Americans said the bomb killed five people, but the owner of the house told AP that 14 people died, seven of them children.

Mosul has seen some of the worst violence of the insurgency since U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces retook the Sunni city of Fallujah in November. Guerrillas in the Mosul area have killed scores of police, soldiers, government officials and anyone else they deem to be working as collaborators with an occupying army.

The U.S. military has responded with stepped-up raids and sweeps, vowing to secure the city in time to hold elections at the end of the month. Yesterday, officials announced that a key insurgent leader linked to the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was captured in Mosul last month.

The assassinations and suicide bombings are the deadliest elements of an intimidation campaign that authorities say is the greatest challenge to imposing stability and producing a viable, independent state.

Hamoud, 52, says it is terrifying for him and the 35 other members of the Diyala provincial council.

"We started on June 15, 2004," Hamoud said, referring to the provincial council that was installed after regional elections. "Seven of us have gotten killed so far."

The most recent deaths greeted the new year. Deputy Gov. Ali Haddawi was shot to death Jan. 2. A day before in Baqouba, gunmen killed the head of the city council, Nawfal Abdul-Hussein al-Shammari, and wounded his brother.

"They told us to hire two bodyguards only after the situation got much worse," Hamoud said. Even now, the government and U.S. troops provide less than $50 a month for the council members to hire guards.

"A week ago, gunmen stormed my house and stole everything I have: my money, car, everything, even my cell phone," Hamoud said. "They told me this was the last warning."

Diyala Gov. Abdullah al-Jubouri said the intimidation is taking its toll, and he blamed the violence on a mix of Islamic fundamentalists and criminal gangs working with the insurgents. He also praised the council members and other officials from his government.

"All the brothers working with us are courageous," said al-Jubouri, who has survived at least two assassination attempts, including a car bombing.

"The person working with us at the provincial offices is here to help his fellow citizens," al-Jubouri said. "Why should he be killed?"

Al-Jubouri promised that the Jan. 30 elections would be held in peace in Diyala.

"We are sure that there will be large participation by Shiites and Kurds," the governor said. "But, the Sunnis are living in confusion. They don't know whom to follow. But now, they have the opportunity to choose. They can choose directly who will rule them."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Killed in Iraq

As of yesterday, 1,350 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations. Since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 1,212 U.S. soldiers have died.

Latest identifications

Killed Thursday by a roadside bomb in northwest Baghdad; assigned to the Army National Guard, 256th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, Lafayette, La.:

Army Spc. Bradley Bergeron, Houma, La.

Army Sgt. Christopher Babin, Houma, La.

Army Pfc. Armand Frickey, Houma, La.

Army Spc. Warren Murphy, Marrero, La.

Army Spc. Huey Fassbender, LaPlace, La.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Kurt Comeaux, Raceland, La.

Killed Tuesday in Taji, Iraq, when an explosive detonated near their vehicle:

Army Spc. Jimmy D. Buie, 44, Floral, Ark.; assigned to the National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Fordyce, Ark.

Army Spc. Joshua S. Marcum, 33, Evening Shade, Ark.; assigned to the National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Camden, Ark.

Army Spc. Jeremy W. McHalffey, 28, Mabelvale, Ark.; assigned to the National Guard's 39th Infantry Brigade, Little Rock, Ark.

Marine Sgt. Zachariah S. Davis, 25, Twentynine Palms, Calif.; killed Thursday in Anbar province; assigned to 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Marine Lance Cpl. Julio C. Cisneros Alvarez, 22, Pharr, Texas; killed Thursday in Anbar province; assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Army Sgt. Bennie J. Washington, 25, Atlanta; died Tuesday in Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, of injuries sustained Oct. 14 in Ramadi when his vehicle was struck by a grenade; assigned to the 44th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Howze, Korea.

Army Pfc. Curtis L. Wooten III, 20, Spanaway, Wash.; killed Tuesday in Balad when an explosive detonated near his vehicle; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, Schweinfurt, Germany.

Associated Press

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