Candidate in Iraqi Provincial Elections Assassinated

By Saad Sarhan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, January 17, 2009

NAJAF, Iraq, Jan. 16 -- Gunmen on Friday ambushed a car carrying a leading candidate in Iraq's provincial elections, killing him and wounding four of his guards, officials said.

The candidate, Haitham al-Husseini, belonged to the Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is locked in a pitched electoral battle with another Shiite party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, for control of Iraq's southern provinces.

The contest has proceeded relatively peacefully in the south, where Dawa has sought to capitalize on the prime minister's popularity and encroach on the power that the Supreme Council has wielded there since the last elections in 2005. Of the nine largely Shiite southern provinces, home to the sacred cities of Najaf and Karbala, the Supreme Council controls at least four, with an influential presence in the rest. Dawa claims just one, Karbala.

But candidates as well as voters have predicted that assassinations and intimidation could occur in the south as the Jan. 31 vote nears.

The gunmen ambushed Husseini's car in the afternoon, as it passed through Jbala, a mixed Sunni and Shiite town about 40 miles south of Baghdad in Babil province, said Capt. Muthanna Ahmed, a spokesman for the provincial police. The car was riddled with bullets, Ahmed said. His guards fired back, but the assailants escaped, he said.

Husseini, 48, head of the town council in nearby Mahawil, was a leading candidate on Maliki's list. The attack was the fourth attempt on his life, officials said. Two years ago, gunmen stormed his house, killing his father, two brothers and a niece.

The assassination is the first in Iraq since late December, when Mowaffaq al-Hamdani, another candidate, was killed in the tense town of Mosul in northern Iraq. Three candidates in Anbar, once a stronghold of insurgents, have survived assassination attempts.

Also on Friday, a roadside bomb struck an American convoy in Baghdad, killing a U.S. soldier, the military said.

Special correspondent Zaid Sabah in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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