By Naseer Nouri and Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 10, 2007
BAGHDAD, Dec. 9 -- A roadside bomb killed the police chief of a mostly Shiite province south of Baghdad, hours after U.S. commanders praised him for his commitment to bringing stability to Iraq.
The assassination of Maj. Gen. Qais al-Mamouri was the latest in a series of attacks against provincial leaders in unruly southern Iraq, where Shiite militias and other factions are engaged in a struggle for power and resources.
The bomb attack Sunday, which struck Mamouri's convoy and also killed two of his bodyguards, occurred in Hilla, about 60 miles south of Baghdad. There had been six previous attempts on his life since he became police chief of Babil province.
"We're very lucky to have in Babil province Major General Qais, who is a very good Iraqi police chief for all of that province," Col. Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, said before the assassination. "He is committed to securing Iraq for the people, for the population. He does not see anything through a sectarian lens. It's all about Iraqi law, and the people see that."
Police imposed an indefinite curfew on Hilla. With people fearing arrests and clashes, streets emptied quickly as U.S. and Iraqi security forces deployed in the city and surrounding areas, police said.
Stunned residents immediately blamed militia fighters for the attack.
"The militias do not want Mamouri so they can bring in someone loyal to them," said Ali Hussein Muhammad, 35, a shop owner.
Mamouri was widely admired and viewed as politically independent. He was known for cracking down on militias and had resisted pressure from religious and political groups to release detainees accused of various crimes.
"I refused to accept any recruits connected to any parties or militias, so my security forces will stay clean and loyal to Iraq and Iraq only," Mamouri told The Washington Post in an interview last month.
In August, governors of two southern provinces and a provincial police chief were killed. On Sunday, the head of the Nineveh Provincial Council survived an assassination attempt in the northern city of Mosul when a roadside bomb exploded near his car, authorities said.
The assassination came as a U.S. military spokesman, Rear Adm. Greg Smith, told reporters that attacks across Iraq had fallen 60 percent during a 10-month U.S. security offensive.
Elsewhere, a suicide car bomber targeting an Iraqi army checkpoint in the northern town of Baiji killed two soldiers and wounded seven, police said.
And clashes broke out between Iraqi police and former Sunni insurgents who had turned their weapons against the group al-Qaeda in Iraq in Buhriz, two miles south of Baqubah, the capital of restive Diyala province. The tensions ignited when police attempted to arrest a former insurgent leader after they had arrested his driver on kidnapping charges.
The clashes resulted in several deaths, according to police Maj. Ibrahim Muhammad. "This operation was a big mistake and will lead to instability to the area," he said.
Special correspondent Saad Sarhan in Najaf and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.