Roadside bombing kills Iraqi governor

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A roadside bomb killed the governor of Muthanna province yesterday, and armed men in a fleet of sport utility vehicles kidnapped a senior government minister on a busy Baghdad street.

The attack on the governor, the second provincial leader to be killed in little more than a week, came amid continued fighting between Shiite Muslim groups competing for dominance in southern Iraq.

The bomb that killed Mohammed Ali al-Hassani, his driver and a bodyguard struck only the Muthanna governor's armored Land Cruiser in a long motorcade traveling toward the provincial capital, Samawah. That precision suggested that a remote-controlled device was used to target the politician of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council.

Khalil Jalil Hamza, governor of neighboring Qadisiyah province and a fellow supreme council member, was killed in a similar fashion Aug. 11, stirring suspicions that both bombings were carried out by militiamen loyal to radical anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia and the supreme council's armed Badr Militia have been battling for control of Iraq's oil-rich southern provinces as next year's local elections approach.

The twin strikes against the governors testified to the struggle for power and riches afflicting Iraq and its potential to nullify any security improvements achieved by U.S. and Iraqi forces trying to suppress rogue militias and insurgents.

Sunni Arab extremists were suspected in the afternoon kidnapping in Baghdad of Samir Salim Attar, the deputy minister for science and technology. He and five bodyguards were taken by armed men who used at least eight SUVs to intercept Attar's heavily defended government convoy.

A week ago, five senior officials of the Oil Ministry were kidnapped by dozens of gunmen posing as security troops. Abductions by Sunni and Shiite adversaries often end in execution of the hostages rather than negotiations for their release.

Yesterday's violence promised to engender more. Al-Hassani's son, Ahmed, blamed al-Sadr's militia and vowed to take revenge, as did a leader from the slain governor's Bu Hassan tribe.

"We will not stand by watching. We will take our revenge after the three-day mourning period," said Abu Haider, the tribal leader.

The assassinations and kidnappings have coincided with a burst of attacks in Baghdad and central Iraq that have killed dozens of civilians in recent days. Yesterday, five people died in a car bombing in the capital's Sadr City neighborhood. A motorcycle bomb killed two Iraqis at central Baghdad's Shorja Market.

A roadside bomb detonated when an Iraqi army patrol passed in Mafraq, near Samarra, killing four soldiers and provoking retaliatory gunfire that killed four civilians in a nearby gas line. In Dawr, a Sunni city near Samarra, four carloads of gunmen attacked the head of the tribal defense force, killing two guards.

Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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