KARIBU MAISHANI

KARIBU MAISHANI

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Iraq killing spree targets tribal chiefs, government workers


BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Dozens of Iraqis have died in a campaign of killings by gunmen using silenced guns and sticky bombs, raising fears that insurgents are moving beyond a reliance on largescale bombings to wreak havoc in the political vacuum left by an inconclusive election.

The assassinations have targeted police officers, tribal leaders, government officials, and members of the Awakening movement of former Sunni insurgents who turned against al Qaeda and helped turn the tide of Iraq's sectarian conflict.

Since February, at least 110 people have been killed in the targeted hits, quietly executed by gunmen equipped with silencers, many of them homemade, or blown up in their cars by small bombs attached by adhesives or magnets, officials said.

"There has been strong activity from al Qaeda groups in the last two months," said a police intelligence official who asked not to be named. "More than 15 assassination attempts per week have taken place in just the al-Karkh side of Baghdad by using sticky bombs and silenced guns."

Targeted killings are a new tactic for al Qaeda in Iraq two months after a March 7 election produced no outright winner and pitted a Sunni-backed sectarian alliance against the country's main Shi'ite-led political groups.

High profile bombings are more its trademark. A day-long onslaught of suicide bombings, car bombs and attacks on security checkpoints by gunmen disguised as municipal workers killed at least 125 people Monday from the volatile city of Mosul in the north to the oil hub of Basra in the south.

The violence was aimed at exploiting sectarian tensions stirred up by the election and by efforts by Shi'ite parties to take the lead in forming Iraq's next government, despite a slim two-seat lead posted by Sunni-backed Iraqiya, officials said.

The attacks were also seen as a message from al Qaeda in Iraq to its supporters that it had not been defeated following a series of major blows against it in recent weeks, including the killing in April of its top two leaders.

In the meantime, the steady campaign of individual killings continues, possibly because a weakened al Qaeda finds them much easier to carry out than largescale operations.

"Our intelligence information says al Qaeda's local leaders have started following a decentralized system and their orders included targeting people who are easy to target," Captain Nabil Abdul-Hussein, a military intelligence officer, said.

Among those killed recently by sticky bombs was Sheikh Sami Mussiakh al-Mufraji, head of the al-Mufraji tribe, Lieutenant Colonel Saad Nassief, an officer in the serious crimes unit of the Interior Ministry, and Lieutenant Colonel Alaa Hassan, head of police intelligence in the Kadhimiya district of Baghdad.

Early this month, gunmen killed Sunni cleric Abdul-Jalil al-Fehdawi, his son and two bodyguards in western Baghdad. The cleric's organization was scorned by Sunni Islamist al Qaeda for its moderate views.

Interior and Defense Ministry employees driving government-issued white Nissans with black license plates that show they have recently been imported are a frequent target.

"They target these cars because they know they are used by employees of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior or their relatives," a police official said, speaking on condition he was not identified.

Silencers to muffle gunshots, confuse victims and increase the chances of escape, were once viewed as a hallmark in Iraq of Iranian-trained Shi'ite militia.

But Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said Wednesday that silencers were increasingly being used by Sunni Islamist insurgents, some of them imported from overseas and others homemade. Some of the silencers used in the attacks on checkpoints Monday were homemade.

(Additional reporting by Khalid al-Ansary, Editing by Michael Christie and Samia Nakhoul)

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