- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Two aides to Iraq’s top Shi’ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani have been killed in separate attacks apparently aimed at inflaming sectarian conflict among Iraqis already divided on whether the Jan. 30 elections should go ahead, officials said yesterday.

In other violence, 10 assailants sprayed gunfire at a minibus picking up a Turkish businessman from a Baghdad hotel yesterday, killing six Iraqis. The assailants kidnapped the Turk, who reportedly ran a construction company that worked with Americans.

The gunmen swarmed the bus as it pulled up to the Bakhan Hotel at dawn to pick up the man, identified by police as Abdulkadir Tanrikulu. The gunmen opened fire, killing the bus driver and five of Mr. Tanrikulu’s employees, police said. The attackers then sped off with their captive.

Sheik Mahmoud Finjan, Ayatollah al-Sistani’s representative in the town of Salman Pak, 12 miles southeast of Baghdad, was fatally shot Wednesday night as he was returning home from evening prayers at a mosque, an official in the cleric’s office said yesterday. Sheik Finjan’s son and four bodyguards also were killed.

Another aide, Halim al-Mohaqeq, a cleric working in Ayatollah al-Sistani’s office in Najaf, also was found dead Wednesday, Reuters news agency reported, quoting leading al-Sistani representative Hamed al-Khafaf.

A car bomb targeting a Shi’ite mosque exploded near the town of Baqouba yesterday. Hospital sources said three persons were killed and 16 were wounded.

Shi’ites make up 60 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people and are expected to dominate the 275-member national assembly. Many Sunnis, who make up 20 percent of the population, fear a loss of the influence and privilege they enjoyed for decades. And Sunni clerics have called for a boycott to protest the November assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

U.S. and Iraqi officials fear that a low Sunni turnout will cast doubts on the new government’s legitimacy.

Ayatollah al-Sistani has urged Iraqis to vote, calling it a religious duty for every man and woman.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have conceded that some areas of the country remain too unsafe for voting to take place there. But Washington insists the elections should go ahead on time, and that delaying them would hand victory to the insurgents.

Iraqi President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, who last week urged the United Nations to look into whether Jan. 30 was a realistic date, said yesterday that the elections must be held as planned.

Mr. al-Yawer, a Sunni who has formed his own election list, previously warned that the vote would fail if attacks kept large numbers of Sunnis away.

In another sign that insurgents were stepping up their activity in the capital, explosions rocked the area of the heavily guarded green zone, breaking a lull of a couple of weeks in insurgent shelling of the international district.

Two explosions were heard yesterday morning, and as many as three shook the area after sundown.

The green zone, located on the western side of the Tigris River, includes major U.S. and Iraqi government offices.

Also yesterday, U.S. troops clashed with insurgents in Baghdad’s northern Azamiyah neighborhood, and some Iraqis were killed, witnesses said. Several cars were scorched by fire, and bullet casings littered the ground.

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