- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

BAGHDAD — Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms burst into the home of a Sunni Arab sheik yesterday, killing him, three of his sons and a son-in-law in an attack police said may have been aimed at discouraging members of the minority from participating in next month’s election.

Sheik Khadim Sarhid al-Hemaiyem, who lived on the outskirts of Baghdad, was the leader of a branch of the Dulaimi tribe, one of the biggest in Iraq. His brother is a candidate in the Dec. 15 parliamentary election, three of his sons had been policemen and another son was slain last month north of the capital, police and family members said.

Elsewhere, an American soldier from Task Force Baghdad died of a gunshot wound yesterday in the center of the capital, the U.S. military said. At least 2,108 U.S. service members have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, the Defense Department said.

The brutal attack on the sheik and his family took place amid a major campaign by U.S. and Iraqi authorities to encourage Sunni Arabs to vote next month in hopes of luring them away from the insurgency.

Some insurgent groups have declared a boycott of the election and have threatened politicians who participate. Police said they suspected the sheik’s death was designed as a warning to Sunni Arabs against heeding the U.S. call.

However, the Association of Muslim Scholars, a hard-line Sunni organization thought to have links to insurgents, condemned the slayings and linked them to what many fear is a campaign against Sunnis by the Shi’ite-led government security services.

“We warn the government against continuing with this tyranny,” said association spokesman Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, the country’s biggest Sunni political group, also condemned the assassination and demanded that the Defense Ministry “control its forces and punish the perpetrators.”

Police Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi denied that government forces were involved in the killings and blamed the insurgents.

“Surely, they are outlaw insurgents. As for the military uniform, they can be bought from many shops in Baghdad,” he said, adding that several police and army vehicles had been stolen and could be used in raids.

The United States hopes that a big Sunni turnout next month will produce a broad-based government that can win the minority’s trust, helping to take the steam out of the Sunni-led insurgency and hasten the day when American and other foreign troops can go home.

Despite the violence, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said he was encouraged by the political progress in Iraq.

Mr. Lieberman, who arrived in Baghdad yesterday to spend Thanksgiving with U.S. troops, told Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari that American forces will remain in Iraq until their mission is complete, despite growing unease in Congress about the conflict.

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