- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

BAGHDAD — Like many of Baghdad’s fiery Sunni clerics, Sheik Omar Ibrahim al Duleimi was never afraid to stir up things at Friday prayers.

When he urged his congregation to rise up and fight the American occupation, U.S. troops would routinely haul him in for questioning.

When he urged his congregation to register to vote in elections, the threat came from his compatriots — insurgents who sent him warning messages that he ignored.

On Wednesday, the sheik paid what may be the ultimate price for his defiance.

Two hours before he was due to be interviewed by the London Sunday Telegraph, armed men stormed his home in Baghdad and kidnapped him.

The reason for their action was the very subject he was planning to talk about — his declaration that democracy, not the gun, is the best way forward for Iraq’s Sunnis.

“In the last two weeks he had been saying in prayers that all Iraqis should vote. He said if we get a government, president and constitution, the Americans will have no reason to stay,” his assistant, Qassim al Janaabi, said.

“Some groups sent messages to him saying, ‘Don’t be a traitor; if you carry on doing this you will die.’ But he didn’t care — he insisted that he would carry on with this subject. Then two cars full of men came and took him away.”

He has not been heard from since.

Sheik al Duleimi, a former secondary school English teacher, was among a growing number of pro-insurgent Sunni clerics who had come to think that the decision to boycott last January’s elections was a disaster.

It is a divisive issue among hard-liners, with those who still reject the political process turning their guns on those who support it.

According to the Association of Muslim Scholars, a hard-line Sunni organization with ties to the insurgents, at least 22 Sunni clerics have been killed in recent weeks for espousing democracy.

The issue has taken on added urgency with the protracted wranglings over Iraq’s constitution, in which Sunnis have been able to play only a small role because of their minimal representation in the National Assembly.

Sheik al Duleimi’s son Hatem, 22, and 6-year-old daughter, Sara, witnessed their father’s abduction.

“At 2 p.m. the door knocked and my little sister opened it,” Hatem al Duleimi said. “Someone was asking for my father. My sister left the door open and then three masked men entered the house and put their rifles into our faces. They said, ‘We want to take your father, he’s a traitor.’ His last words to us were, ‘Stay here, I will be back. Let them take me and I will be back.’”

The family has little hope of seeing him again.

Hatem al Duleimi said he still thinks that his father was right.

“The election is a new weapon we can use against the occupation,” he said. “But these extremists refuse any kind of election. They are not mujahedeen, they are just terrorists.”

cColin Freeman contributed to this report in London.

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