3 Sunni Activists Killed In Iraq

Followers of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr rally after Friday prayers in Baghdad's Sadr City area to denounce federalism and call for national unity.
Followers of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr rally after Friday prayers in Baghdad's Sadr City area to denounce federalism and call for national unity. (By Thaier Sudani -- Reuters)
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Dlovan Brwari
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 20, 2005

MOSUL, Iraq, Aug. 19 -- Gunmen in this northern city Friday abducted and publicly executed three Sunni Arab activists who had been working to draw the disgruntled Sunni minority into Iraq's political mainstream, and then draped their bodies in a get-out-the-vote banner, officials and witnesses said.

The killings, before a horrified crowd, were the latest episode in the accelerating violence between suspected insurgents and the Sunni minority that has been their base of support.

One witness, Muhammed Khalid, said armed men traveling in eight cars kidnapped the activists as they were hanging banners encouraging voter participation. An hour later, gunmen appeared in another neighborhood. They blocked off side roads, stopped people from fleeing and forbade frightened shopkeepers to close their establishments, witnesses said.

"Then they took three men out of their cars and killed them in front of us," said a witness, Harith Saleem. He quoted one of the killers as saying, "This is the punishment for those who promote the elections."

In the western city of Ramadi, meanwhile, Sunni tribal members shot and killed a Saudi and three other members of the country's main insurgent group, al Qaeda in Iraq, headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, witnesses and sources said. Killings there, too, marked rapidly escalating tensions between foreign-led fighters and Sunnis.

The political violence came as all Iraq's factions jostled for position in the reshaping of their nation, more than two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

In Baghdad, debate over the role of Islamic law deadlocked the drafting of Iraq's new constitution, with more-secular Iraqis balking at terms they said would subjugate Iraq to the rule of clerics, negotiators said.

Iraqis are due to vote in October on a new constitution and then in December for their first full-term government, which will determine how the constitution is interpreted and enforced.

Iraq's political leaders and constitution committee members face a Monday deadline -- already postponed by a week -- to put a draft constitution before parliament, ahead of the October vote. U.S. and Iraqi leaders have insisted that completing the constitution will calm political violence. Friday's attacks, however, suggested that the bloodletting would persist at least through the scheduled December elections.

Negotiators said Friday that all sides had reached accord on the critical issue of federalism, which will determine how much independent say the largely Kurdish north and predominantly Shiite south will have in running their affairs. The accord reached Friday would recognize a northern federal state for the Kurds and give other regions the same option if approved by local voters and by parliament, Shiite and Kurdish officials said.

Those terms leave the way open for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- now the dominant party in Iraq's interim government -- to make a separate federal state in the Shiite south out of as many as half of Iraq's 18 provinces.

Members of the constitution committee said they were still divided on how Iraq's oil wealth should be allocated. But the bigger dispute, emerging early Saturday, was over the role of Islam. The current rough draft stipulates that Iraq is an Islamic state and that no law can contradict the basic principles of Islam.

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