By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 10, 2008
BAGHDAD, Oct. 9 -- A senior lawmaker loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was fatally wounded Thursday morning in a roadside bombing in Baghdad, raising concerns about the potential for violence ahead of provincial elections expected early next year.
Shiite lawmaker Saleh al-Auqaeili was struck shortly before 10 a.m. in the southern portion of Sadr City, a vast Shiite district in eastern Baghdad, Iraqi officials said.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he would appoint a committee to investigate the slaying of the lawmaker, a university history professor. Sadrist leaders oppose Maliki's efforts to negotiate an agreement with the United States that would allow American soldiers to remain in Iraq after the United Nations mandate regulating their presence expires at the end of the year.
"Targeting Auqaeili is an attack on the Sadrist movement as a whole," Sadrist lawmaker Ahmad al-Massoudi said in an interview. "It was also a message to the movement and to all political groups opposing the agreement" with the United States.
The legal framework that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq after the end of the year has emerged as a wedge issue among rival Shiite parties.
Maliki, the leader of the Dawa party, has said he recognizes the importance of reaching a status-of-forces agreement with the United States, but risks alienating Shiite voters opposed to the presence of U.S. troops if the deal is perceived to give the Americans too much leeway. The two governments have disagreed over U.S. demands that American soldiers be immune from prosecution under Iraqi law, even for acts committed off base and off duty.
The attack also raised questions about whether the Iraqi government, which sent troops into Sadr City in May, is equipped to secure the district, once controlled by militias loyal to Sadr. The troops' deployment came as Sadr announced that his movement would focus more on humanitarian assistance than armed struggle.
"We have laid the blame on the occupation forces and the Iraqi government for the martyrdom of [the lawmaker] because the explosion happened in an area that is under the control of" American forces, Massoudi said.
Maher Karim, 32, one of the lawmaker's bodyguards, said Auqaeili died at a hospital hours after the attack.
"Because of the political tension in Iraq, the doctor was worried," Karim said of Auqaeili in an interview Thursday night. "He asked us many times if anyone wanted to resign [and said] they could do so at any time."
Special correspondents Qais Mizher, Dalya Hassan and K.I. Ibrahim contributed to this report.