By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
BAGHDAD, Jan. 7 -- A suicide bomber killed the leader of a U.S.-backed neighborhood security force in Baghdad's Adhamiyah district Monday, his aides said, the latest in a string of attacks against such forces.
The blast, along with a second explosion, killed Col. Riyadh al-Sammarai and at least 10 others, witnesses said.
The campaign against the so-called Awakening groups began after Osama bin Laden called on Muslims late last month to attack such "dangerous conspiracies."
"They are sending a message to the Awakening fighters that we must leave the movement," said Riyadh Hadi, field commander of the Adhamiyah Awakening, as he stood among the corpses of his colleagues. "But this will only increase our will to fight against them more and more."
The attack took place about 10 a.m. as Sammarai was leaving his home in the compound of the Sunni Endowment, an institution responsible for overseeing the sect's mosques in Iraq. As he left the Endowment, employees came up to greet him.
Then a man, whom Sammarai appeared to know, walked up carrying a blanket and motioned as if he were about to shake Sammarai's hands, said Maj. Mohanned Hazim, an Iraqi army official at the compound. The man then detonated his explosives, killing Sammarai, three of his bodyguards and three Endowment employees, witnesses said.
As more than a dozen wounded were being transported to the hospital, a second bomb detonated and killed four of the injured, witnesses said. Other casualty reports varied.
Sammarai, about 47 years old, was recruited last year by the American military to lead the Awakening group, which includes 700 fighters who are each paid about $300 a month by the U.S. military, according to Sammarai's aides.
Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said the spike in attacks carried out recently on the Awakening groups reflected their success in winning over residents and driving out insurgents.
"Clearly al-Qaeda is very, very concerned about the Awakening movements," he said, adding that most of the attacks appeared to have been carried out by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. "That's why we're now seeing these attacks by Sunnis against Sunnis."
In a 56-minute audio recording released Dec. 29, bin Laden lashed out at the Awakening groups as "conspiracies that are being weaved against you by the Zionist-crusader alliance led by America."
Safa Hussein, Iraq's deputy national security adviser, said al-Qaeda in Iraq is trying to both attack the Awakening and penetrate its ranks. "Al-Qaeda's policy is in two directions," he said.
"The Sahwa, when they were created, it was a big action, and al-Qaeda needed some time to respond to it," he said, using the Arab word for Awakening. "And we all know the people of al-Qaeda are adaptive. But we think the ultimate outcome is not in their favor."
At least 42 members of Awakening groups have been killed in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, and more than 50 in Sunni-dominated portions of Babil province, south of Baghdad, security officials said.
Also Monday, a mechanical failure at the nation's largest oil refinery, in Baiji, sparked massive fires that killed one person and wounded at least three, the U.S. military said. Bilal Mohammed, an engineer at the refinery, said nine workers were burned in the fire, which took three hours to extinguish.
Correspondent Joshua Partlow and special correspondents Zaid Sabah, Dalya Hassan, Saad al-Izzi and K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad, Saad Sarhan in Najaf and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.