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A key leader of a US-backed Sunni armed group was blown apart in an Al Qaida in Iraq double suicide bombing, days after Osama bin Laden condemned the new American allies and said they would “suffer in life and in the afterlife.” At least 11 others died in the attack.
The Baghdad bombing, which also wounded 28 Monday, was the latest in a series of recent attacks targeting members of groups that turned against Al Qaida in Iraq last year and have been credited with helping dramatically reduce violence across the country over the past six months.
“The barbaric nature of AQI continues to find new depths of depravity in killing courageous Iraqi citizens who reject the terrorists and their Taliban ideology,” the US military said in a statement, using an acronym for Al Qaida in Iraq.
The effect the groups, known as “awakening councils,” have had on security appears to have provoked Bin Laden.
In an audiotape released December 29, the terror leader warned Iraq’s Sunni Arabs against joining the groups, who he said “have betrayed the nation and brought disgrace and shame to their people. They will suffer in life and in the afterlife.”
“I advise those who follow the path of temptation should wash out this disgrace by repentance,” he said. “This participation (in the Awakening Councils) is a great apostasy and sedition that will lead them to Hell.”
US military spokesman Major General Kevin Bergner said last week the recent attacks were the “clearest indication” that Al Qaida in Iraq “ believed to consist mainly of Iraqis but to have foreign leadership” was worried about losing the support of its fellow Sunni Arabs.
Monday’s bombing occurred at the entrance of a Sunni Endowment office, a government agency that cares for Sunni mosques and shrines, and near an Awakening Council office in Baghdad’s northern Azamiyah district, which had been a stronghold of Sunni insurgents and a safe haven for Al Qaida in Iraq.
The first suicide bomber walked up to Riyadh al-Samarrai, a former police colonel and head of the local Awakening Council group, and embraced him before blowing himself up, said one of Al Samarrai’s guards who was wounded in the attack.
“A man came saying that he is a friend of Col. Riyadh Al Samarrai,” the guard said from his bed in Al Nuaman hospital.
“He met him and embraced him and after a few seconds, the explosion took place.” He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
As people rushed to evacuate the wounded, a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives just metres away, said Baghdad’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Qassim Al Moussawi.
Sunni Endowment leader Ahmed Abdul Ghafur Al Samarrai - who is from the same tribe as the colonel - blamed Bin Laden for the attack.
“Those criminal gangs fled from Al Anbar province to Azamiyah neighborhood for bloodshed and to abuse the dignity of the people,” he said, referring to the province west of Baghdad that was a stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq. The “awakening council” movement began late in 2006. “This criminal act occurred according to the urging of Bin Laden against the awakening; he incited Al Qaida to kill awakening fighters.
The founder of the awakening movement, Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, was killed by a bomb in September, 10 days after meeting US President George W. Bush at a US base in Anbar.
Despite “their plot of murdering Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, Anbar became more secure,” the Endowment leader said. “Thus Azamiyah now is more stable, people have agreed to chase the criminals, and Al Qaida won’t stay in Iraq”. He said Monday’s attack had ‘increased Iraqis’ strength ... against those who want to create sectarian divisions.”
Casualty figures from the attack differed. Cmdr. Scott Rye, a US military spokesman, said 12 people were killed and that 28 were wounded. Earlier, Al Moussawi said six people were killed and 26 wounded, while a police officer had put the toll as high as 14 dead.
The switch of allegiance by insurgents in Azamiyah was one of the most significant in a series of similar moves across Baghdad’s Sunni neighbourhoods. Azamiyah is home to Iraq’s most revered Sunni shrine, the mosque of Imam Abu Hanifa, and many in the area served as officers in Saddam Hussein’s army and security agencies, giving an edge to the insurgency there.
The US has said that the awakening groups, along with an extra 30,000 American troops sent into the Baghdad area and a cease-fire declared by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr for his Mahdi Army militia, were responsible for the plunge in violence.
Bloodshed across Iraq has clearly abated from the levels of early 2007, when there were fears the country was heading to all-out civil war. In December, 736 Iraqis were killed, compared to 2,309 in December 2006 and 2,021 in July 2007, according to an Associated Press count. But after December’s holiday period, violence Ñ particularly against members of the US backed groups appears to be on the increase.
The US military has frequently said the improved security is fragile and could be reversed.
“It is tenuous at best,” Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the commander of US forces south of Baghdad, said last week. “On any given day, the security situation could go backward by some catastrophic attack, or by the local population not seeing continuing forward progress.”
Other attacks in the capital killed seven people, police said.
In eastern Baghdad, a roadside bomb detonated near a technology university, killing four people, including a student, and wounding 11 others, a police officer said.
In Baghdad’s Jadriyah neighbourhood, two roadside bombs went off minutes apart, killing a civilian and wounding four other people, another police officer said. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.
In eastern Baghdad’s Sinaa neighbourhood, a parked car bomb exploded near a restaurant in the afternoon, police said, wounding seven people. Separately, a mortar attack against an eastern Baghdad police station killed two civilians and wounded five others, a police officer and medical worker said. (AP)
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