- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 13, 2009

BAGHDAD | The head of Iraq’s main Sunni parliamentary bloc was killed in a bold daylight attack after delivering a sermon during Friday prayers at a mosque in western Baghdad, raising fears that insurgents are trying to rekindle sectarian violence.

A gunman believed to be as young as 15 shot Harith al-Obeidi as he left the mosque and walked toward his nearby home, police said.

There were conflicting accounts about what happened next.

Guards at the scene said the assailant was chased a few hundred yards down the street, then detonated a grenade, killing himself and an undetermined number of pursuers.

But an Interior Ministry official said guards killed the attacker after he threw the grenade during a shootout. At least four other people, including a worshipper, were killed, and several others were wounded, according to the official, who read details from the police report on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Mr. al-Obeidi, who led the Iraqi Accordance Front, was known as a fierce advocate of prisoners’ rights - a divisive issue in relations between the disaffected Sunni Muslim minority and the Shi’ite-led government.

He championed their cause to the end, saying in his sermon that “nobody dares to tell the ruler that such imprisonment is wrong.”

The brazen shooting followed a spate of high-profile bombings that American and Iraqi officials have warned are part of an effort by insurgents to re-ignite sectarian violence and undermine confidence in the Shi’ite-led government.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who warned a day earlier that violence was likely to increase ahead of the parliamentary vote set for the end of January, promised an investigation into the attack.

Sunni lawmakers also blamed “terrorist and sectarian groups” trying to foment violence, saying Mr. al-Obeidi was on good terms with Iraq’s fractured parties.

Accordance Front spokesman and fellow lawmaker Salim Abdullah questioned how the attackers were able to penetrate the tight security in the neighborhood.

He claimed that al Qaeda in Iraq has again infiltrated the area.

Mr. al-Obeidi’s party is the Congress of the People of Iraq, one of three parties making up the Iraqi Accordance Front, which has 44 seats in Iraq’s 275-member parliament. The other two parties in the bloc are the Iraqi Islamic Party and the National Dialogue Council.

The lawmaker was chosen to lead the bloc in May after his predecessor, Ayad al-Samarraie, became parliamentary speaker.

Shatha al-Abousi, a fellow Sunni lawmaker and member of parliament’s human rights committee, said Mr. al-Obeidi was 47 years old, had two wives and eight children.

He also was a university professor with a doctorate in Islamic studies and often gave mosque sermons on Friday, the traditional Islamic day of prayer.

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