By John Ward Anderson and Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
BAGHDAD, March 6 -- The top commander of the Iraqi army division in Baghdad was killed Monday when his car came under small-arms fire while traveling through the capital, the U.S. military said.
Maj. Gen. Mubdar Hatim Hazya al-Dulaimi was one of the highest-ranking members of the new Iraqi army to be killed in insurgent violence. Under his leadership, the 6th Iraqi Army Division has been gradually assuming control of parts of the capital from U.S. forces.
His killing could set back security efforts in Baghdad, particularly following the recent outbreak of sectarian violence, according to a senior U.S. commander who worked closely with him.
"It could be a blow that takes a long time to overcome," said Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr., commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, who oversaw U.S. troops in Baghdad for a year ending in January. "Losing a strong commander for even a little while in Baghdad could cause a further power shift toward what looks like the Shia control of the city."
Still, Dulaimi strove to cultivate strong subordinates, which could help the transition, Webster said. The Defense Ministry is expected to select Dulaimi's replacement.
The attack was one of the violent incidents across Iraq on Monday that left more than 20 people dead after a relative lull in bloodshed over the weekend.
President Jalal Talabani, meanwhile, announced that the country's new parliament, which was elected Dec. 15, would hold its first meeting on Sunday, the deadline set by the constitution for its first session. Lawmakers and political parties have been unable to agree on the composition of a new government, delaying the opening of parliament.
Dulaimi was killed about 4:35 p.m. in the western part of the capital when his convoy was attacked, a U.S. military statement said.
"Mubdar had been visiting his soldiers in Kadamiyah and was returning to his headquarters when his convoy came under small-arms fire attack," the statement said. It was not clear whether anyone else had been killed or injured in the incident.
"General Mubdar was a true Iraqi patriot," Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman, commander of the Multi-National Division in Baghdad, said in a statement. "He leaves behind a professional and capable fighting force that will continue the fight for Iraqi freedom."
U.S. officials training the new Iraqi army hope it will take over combat operations in Iraq, enabling an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops. Iraqi forces are currently in charge of security in about 60 percent of Baghdad. Only two weeks ago, Dulaimi had predicted that insurgent activity would decline because of the Iraqi army's operations.
"Because of the bravery of our armed forces that sacrifice themselves on a daily basis, the amount of insurgent activity will continue to decrease," Dulaimi was quoted as saying in a U.S. military statement.
The Iraqi general, in his mid-fifties, was an aggressive, inspirational leader and rising star within the army, Webster said. A Sunni Arab sheik from southern Baghdad, Dulaimi led a division under Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and since Hussein's fall had commanded two other divisions before being selected by the Defense Ministry for the critical job in Baghdad. "He was certainly destined to be a senior leader of all the armed forces," Webster said.
But Dulaimi's hands-on style and unusual drive to lead from the front -- as well as his habit of shunning body armor -- also put him in greater danger. "He knew he had to be out with his soldiers for them to trust him," Webster said. "He put himself at more risk than his predecessors."
Elsewhere in the capital on Monday, at least four car bombs exploded, killing four people and injuring 24, police said. Another four people were killed and 10 wounded when three car bombs detonated in the town of Mahmudiyah, about 15 miles south of the capital, security officials said.
In the worst attack of the day, seven people, including five children, were killed and 17 were injured when a car bomb exploded in a crowded market in central Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said.
A U.S. military statement said the explosion occurred near the office of the mayor, who was meeting with community leaders at the time to discuss ways to improve security. The statement blamed the attack on insurgent attempts to "incite sectarian violence within the community."
Five policemen who rushed to the scene were reportedly injured in a secondary bombing that targeted them.
The U.S. military reported the death of a U.S. soldier "due to enemy action" in the western province of Anbar on Sunday. Additional details were not available.
The bodies of a father and two of his sons were found Monday in the city of Hawijah, about 35 miles southwest of the northern city of Kirkuk, according to police. They said the victims were Shiite Muslims who appeared to have been shot execution-style, presumably by the Sunni-led insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
An offshoot of the group recently distributed leaflets in the town demanding the expulsion of Shiites in retaliation after Sunnis fled their communities around Baghdad.
Fearing sectarian violence, some Sunni families abandoned their homes following the destruction of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra on Feb. 22. Attracted by the rich agricultural land around Hawijah, many Shiites had moved to the area during the rule of Hussein, residents said.
Residents of the town were "shocked by these leaflets, because many of these families who work in agriculture and cattle raising, as well as other jobs, have intermarried and lived here for many years without any problem," said local police Capt. Emad Khider.
Tyson reported from Washington. Other Washington Post staff contributed to this report.