Lami’s efforts to remove members of the Baath Party from the government made him one of the most controversial figures of the post-Hussein era, and his death will probably return attention to the perilous state of security and politics in Iraq more than eight years after the U.S.-led invasion.
The killing occurred on a day that included thousands of young men marching through Baghdad’s Sadr City in a show of force apparently intended to prove that they could restart the Shiite insurgency if U.S. troops do not leave the country by the end of the year.
The parade by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army lasted for hours, as the participants — displaying new uniforms resembling the Iraqi flag — marched past tens of thousands of well-wishers supporting Sadr’s call for U.S. forces to abide by their scheduled Dec. 31 departure.
The protesters burned and kicked replicas of American and Israeli flags and carried signs reading “No, No America” and “No, No Israel.”
Although Sadr’s militia was unarmed and the march remained peaceful, bombings and mortar attacks continued across the country Thursday, including at the heavily fortified Green Zone and Baghdad International Airport. No injuries were reported at those sites, but at least nine Iraqi police or military officials were killed elsewhere in addition to Lami.
As the right-hand man of the even more controversial Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite opponent-in-exile of Hussein and onetime U.S. ally, Lami was put in charge of the de-Baathification committee created by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer in 2003. He oversaw the dismissal of thousands of government workers and military officials from their jobs because of their former membership of Hussein’s Baath Party.
Lami was loathed by Iraq’s Sunnis for his perceived persecution of Baathists and for his alleged ties to Iran, and the Baathist-led Sunni insurgency would have had many reasons to kill him. Observers noted, however, that at a time of deep splits within the Shiite community, it is also possible that he was a victim of internecine Shiite rivalries.
But Entifadh Qanbar, a spokesman for Chalabi, immediately blamed Baathists loyal to the Hussein government, saying that Lami appeared to have been “well-monitored and traced” by his attackers.
“We lost a brother, and we lost a very important role model who played a huge role in uprooting the Baath Party from society,” Qanbar said. “But we support freedom in Iraq, support freedom everywhere, and that is how we work, and killing each member is not going to stop us from doing what we need to do.”