Blast Injures U.S.-Allied Sunni Cleric

By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 12, 2007

BAGHDAD, Aug. 11 -- A Sunni cleric who had joined with U.S. forces to fight the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq was seriously wounded Saturday in a bomb blast at his Baghdad home, a dramatic act of retribution for his role in aiding the American military. Three of his relatives were killed in the attack.

A few hours later, two regional government leaders were killed in Qadisiyah, a predominantly Shiite province south of Baghdad.

The two attacks highlight a major obstacle still facing the U.S. military even as commanders cautiously welcome a declining overall level of violence. In both cases, the victims were believed to have been targeted by members of their own sect, providing a glimpse into the complexity of allegiances in Iraq.

A bomb hit Wathiq al-Obeidi's home in the Adhamiyah area of northern Baghdad before dawn on Saturday, four days after Sunni insurgents had issued a four-page threat against his life. Local leaders said Obeidi was leading a group that was working with -- and receiving weapons from -- American troops as part of a growing effort to drive al-Qaeda in Iraq from some of Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods.

Saturday's bombing is the first known incident in which a Sunni leader in Baghdad has been targeted for his alliance with American forces in working against al-Qaeda in Iraq. Over the past two months, U.S. commanders have provided large sums of money and significant powers to scores of Sunni fighters -- some of whom are believed to have battled U.S. troops in the past -- in an attempt to eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The attack against Obeidi highlights a major hurdle for American forces to overcome if the strategy of arming Sunnis is to succeed. The death threat issued against the cleric this week, which was posted to the Web site of an umbrella group for Sunni insurgents, made clear that he was being targeted not only for opposing al-Qaeda in Iraq but for aiding the enemy.

"Obeidi is an agent for the occupier and a traitor. He is fighting against the mujaheddin and destroying Islam," the statement said, using the Arabic term for holy warriors.

The umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq, asserted responsibility for the attack against Obeidi on the Web site Saturday night.

Questions have swirled about the wisdom of the U.S. military's newest alliances since it was first made public that the U.S. was arming Sunnis. The Sunni fighters oppose the Shiite-led government, and their long-term goals remain unclear. If a significant number of the Americans' new allies begin to fear for their lives, the system of "concerned citizens," as U.S. commanders call them, could break down.

Mohammed al-Adhami, a community leader in Adhamiyah, said Obeidi had modeled his group on similar programs in Anbar province and in the western Baghdad district of Amiriyah after al-Qaeda in Iraq killed two of his nephews last month. He said Obeidi's cousin, an officer in the Iraqi army, had introduced him to American troops in the area. Obeidi was given the power to make arrests, and he had turned over nearly 100 suspected insurgents to U.S. forces during the past few weeks, Adhami said.

"They gave him the green light to do whatever he needed to do," he said.

A few hours after Obeidi's home was bombed, a roadside bomb killed the governor and the police chief of Qadisiyah province, as well as their driver and bodyguard, as they traveled home from a funeral for a local tribal sheik, police said.

The governor, Khalil Jalil Hamza, was a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a powerful Shiite political group led by the influential politician Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. The group has waged fierce battles with the Mahdi Army, Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia, for control of the region, where the U.S. military has maintained a relatively small presence.

Also Saturday, the U.S. military announced that a soldier had died in a noncombat incident. The soldier was not identified.

Special correspondent Naseer Nouri and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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