Leading Sunni official in Iraq hit by roadside bomb

January 2, 2012

A convoy carrying a leading Sunni government official was hit by a roadside bomb Sunday night, injuring his bodyguards, according to the official and a police colonel from the heavily Sunni area where the blast was reported.

Finance Minister Rafe al-Essawi survived the blast, which occurred at 9:15 p.m. in the Salahuddin province north of Baghdad.

Responding to inquiries via text message, Essawi would not say whether he thought his convoy was targeted or whether the attack was random.

“We will send a letter to the Ministry of Interior to investigate,” he wrote.

According to Col. Jassim Abdulla, a deputy police chief in Salahuddin, Essawi was returning home to Baghdad. Abdulla said three of Essawi’s bodyguards, two officers and one soldier were taken to a hospital in Tikrit.

No group had asserted responsibility as of late Monday afternoon in Baghdad.

Three of the bodyguards were eventually taken to a hospital inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, Abdulla said. Two were reported to be doing well, while the third, a captain, underwent surgery for injuries to his lung, the deputy police chief said.

Essawi is widely regarded in Iraq as a moderate. He is part of the Iraqiya political bloc, which is supported by Sunnis and includes some Shiites. In recent weeks, the bloc has been sharply critical of the country’s top official, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, who has made moves to consolidate his power in the wake of the U.S. military departure.

News of the incident will most likely increase political tensions in Iraq. In recent weeks, the Shiite-controlled security forces have accused another Sunni official, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, of running a hit squad. He has fled to the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan. Maliki is demanding that Hashimi return to Baghdad to face trial.

Further details of the Sunday bombing were not available, nor is there any indication who might have planted the device. In the past, terrorists have targeted officials to try to widen political tensions among Iraq’s various sects.

Uthman al-Mohktar in Anbar province contributed to this report.

Post staff writer Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County, Md.
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