- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

BAGHDAD — Gunmen assassinated a Sunni community leader yesterday in the former extremist stronghold of Fallujah — part of an insurgent campaign to prevent prominent Sunni Arabs from joining the U.S.-backed political process.

Bombs and bullets killed at least 11 others, including four Marines who died in a pair of bombings in western Anbar province.

Sheik Kamal Nazal, a Sunni preacher and chairman of the Fallujah City Council, was killed in a hail of bullets from two passing cars as he walked to work, police said.

No group took responsibility for the slaying, which appeared part of a campaign of intimidation by Sunni insurgents against Sunni Arabs interested in promoting a political settlement to stem the violence.

Last month, Sheik Nazal welcomed Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to the city 40 miles west of Baghdad.

U.S. officials have been working hard to encourage Sunni Arabs to abandon the insurgency, and have been urging Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders to give major government posts to the disaffected minority.

A senior member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni political group seeking a place in the new government, deplored yesterday’s assassination and blamed U.S. and Iraqi authorities in part for failing to protect the sheik.

“Those who wanted to eliminate Sheik Nazal are aimed at bringing more instability to the city,” Salman al-Jumaili said.

Fallujah was the major stronghold of insurgent and religious extremists, including al Qaeda in Iraq, until the city fell to a U.S. air and ground assault in November 2004. Fallujah since has become one of the most intensely guarded cities in the nation.

The four Marines died in bombings in Anbar province, which includes Fallujah and Ramadi and is a focus of insurgent activity.

Three Marines assigned to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit were killed Monday in a bombing in Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad, the military said. The other Marine, attached to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, died from wounds inflicted by a bombing Sunday in an unspecified location in Anbar.

In Baghdad, seven persons were killed when two bombs exploded within 10 minutes on a commercial street near downtown Tahrir Square.

In a raid south of Baghdad on Monday, Iraqi security forces detained at least 26 suspected Sunni Arab insurgents who officials said were planning to attack Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims during Ashura commemorations, which climax tomorrow. The ceremonies mark the 7th-century death of Shi’ite saint Imam Hussein, and attract hundreds of thousands of Shi’ites from throughout the Muslim world.

Iraqi security forces are on high alert to prevent a repeat of the violence that marred the past two Ashura ceremonies, in which Sunni Arab suicide bombers attacked Shi’ite worshippers, killing more than 230 people in Baghdad and the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala to the south.

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