Gunmen Kill Head of Fallujah City Council

Iraqis carry the coffin of cleric Kamal Nazzal, who as head of the city council was among Fallujah's best-known residents. He was shot on his way to work.
Iraqis carry the coffin of cleric Kamal Nazzal, who as head of the city council was among Fallujah's best-known residents. He was shot on his way to work. (By Mohanned Faisal -- Reuters)
By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

BAGHDAD, Feb. 7 -- A prominent Sunni Muslim cleric and civic leader who ran for a seat in Iraq's parliament and worked closely with American forces policing Fallujah was fatally shot Tuesday on his way to work in the western city.

Kamal Nazzal, head of the Fallujah city council and a preacher at the city's Shakir mosque, was arriving at city hall when gunmen in two dark-colored BMWs riddled his body with bullets, police and residents said.

The attack came as 10 people were killed in three bombings in Baghdad. Two of the blasts, timed just moments apart, occurred near a compact disc shop in the commercial neighborhood of Bab al-Sharjee, killing five civilians and three Iraqi policemen, Maj. Muhammed Sultan, a police spokesman, said. At least 15 people were wounded in the blasts.

"When the people gathered after the first bomb explosion, another bomb went off," Sultan said. Later, a car bomb targeting a police patrol exploded in the capital's Karrada neighborhood, killing two policemen and wounding five others, he said.

Also Tuesday, U.S. military officials announced the death of a Marine in a makeshift bomb attack Sunday in Anbar province, the insurgent stronghold where Fallujah is located.

Residents of Fallujah described the attack on Nazzal, who died at a hospital hours after being shot, as a chilling blow to the city. U.S. and Iraqi officials recently described Fallujah as rebounding from the devastation wrought in November 2004 during a U.S. offensive against insurgents who had massed there.

"Like many people, I am worried now about myself -- maybe I will be the next target -- and I don't know how to behave," said Fawzi Muhammed, deputy chairman of Fallujah's reconstruction committee, who has worked with U.S. forces. "Really, it's such a bad situation here now. Most of the responsible people will want to leave their work."

Along with Hamza Abbas Asawi -- Fallujah's top cleric, who also cooperated with U.S. forces until his assassination in November -- Nazzal was among the city's best-known residents. His face adorned campaign posters plastered all over the city before the country's Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. He regularly greeted visiting dignitaries, including U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, who traveled to Fallujah last month.

In an interview in December, Nazzal said he worked with the Americans because "not everything can be resolved by fighting. Sometimes only negotiation with the occupiers works."

The Fallujah city council accused al Qaeda in Iraq of assassinating Nazzal. "They killed him because he was known for his attitude against them," said Ahmed Alwan, a council member. "He urged the people to participate in the elections and to join the police and army in Fallujah and Ramadi."

Across Iraq on Tuesday, police and army forces worked to tighten security in anticipation of the Shiite Muslim holiday of Ashura , which begins Thursday and has drawn lethal attacks on pilgrims in recent years.

They established dozens of checkpoints on main highways and enhanced police patrols throughout Baghdad and the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, south of the capital. More than a million Shiite pilgrims are expected to descend on Karbala for the festival, which commemorates the death in 680 of Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

About 100 people were killed and hundreds injured during the holiday over each of the past two years in Iraq.

Special correspondent Saad Sarhan in Karbala contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company