- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — The head of a key U.S.-backed Sunni group was killed yesterday in a double suicide bombing that claimed at least 11 other lives and highlighted the deadly precision of attacks on Sunni leaders choosing to oppose al Qaeda in Iraq.

The main target — a former police colonel who led resistance to al Qaeda in one of its former Baghdad strongholds — was first embraced by a bomber posing as a friend. Seconds later, the attacker stepped back and triggered an explosion, a witness said.

A suicide car bomber then struck as rescuers tried to evacuate the wounded. At least 28 persons were injured in the twin blasts, the latest in a spate of attacks against Sunnis who have joined a U.S.-supported movement against extremists and credited with helping sharply reduce violence across Iraq.

But the mounting al Qaeda backlash has stoked worries of a wider showdown brewing as extremists try to reclaim havens and intimidate the so-called Awakening Councils opposing them. In an audiotape released Dec. 29, Osama bin Laden warned that Sunni Arabs who join the groups will “suffer in life and in the afterlife.”

Yesterday’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 insurgents and a safe haven for al Qaeda in Iraq.

The first bomber approached Riyadh al-Samarrai, a former police colonel and head of the local Awakening Council, and claimed to be a friend, said one of Mr. al-Samarrai’s bodyguards, who was wounded in the attack.

“He met him and embraced him and after a few seconds, the explosion took place,” the guard said from his bed in al-Nuaman hospital. He spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

As people rushed to aid the wounded, a suicide car bomb exploded just yards 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 encouraging the attack. But he said the bloodshed yesterday had “increased Iraqis’ strength … against those who want to create sectarian divisions.”

Casualty figures from the attack differed.

Cmdr. Scott Rye, a U.S. military spokesman, said 12 persons were killed and 28 were wounded. Earlier, Brig. al-Moussawi said six persons were killed and 26 wounded. A police officer had put the death toll as high as 14.

The switch of allegiance by insurgents in Azamiyah was one of the most significant in a series of similar moves across Baghdad’s Sunni neighborhoods.

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