Gunmen Kill Three Sunni Candidates Two Days Before Iraq's Provincial Elections

Millions of Iraqis voted peacefully on Jan. 31 in the country's first provincial elections since 2005.
By Zaid Sabah and Qais Mizher
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, January 30, 2009

BAGHDAD, Jan. 29 -- Gunmen assassinated three Sunni Muslim political candidates in separate incidents Thursday, two days before Iraq holds its first elections in four years.

Hazam Salim Ahmad, a candidate for the National Unity list, was killed as he left his house in the city of Mosul, where Sunni Arabs and Kurds are vying for control amid attacks by the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. The assault came hours after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki paid a visit to the northern city. Tribal chieftains linked to Maliki lead Ahmad's party.

In Diyala province, gunmen kidnapped Abbas Farhan al-Jubouri, a candidate for the secular National Movement of Reform and Development, after a campaign rally in Mandali, 56 miles east of the provincial capital, Baqubah, said Brig. Gen. Raghib Radhi, a spokesman for the Diyala police. "Three hours later the police found his dead body along with the bodies of two of his aides," Radhi said.

In Baghdad's Amiriyah neighborhood, gunmen killed Omar Faruq al-Ani, a candidate with the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni political bloc. The assailants stormed into his house minutes after he returned from a campaign rally Thursday evening and shot him four times, police said.

The spate of assaults raised to five the number of candidates killed in the run-up to Saturday's voting. Four were Sunnis.

Most Sunnis boycotted the 2005 elections, allowing Shiites and Kurds to grab a disproportionate slice of political power across the nation. Now, Sunnis are expected to gain power in areas such as Diyala province and Mosul, where they are the majority, as Iraq chooses the leadership of 14 of 18 provinces.

Sunnis are also competing for power among themselves, as those aligned with upstart tribal movements and former insurgents who turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq battle against established Sunni politicians.

Small parties such as the National Movement of Reform and Development, with scarce funds and few links to powerful tribal and religious figures, have particularly suffered. Ten days ago, the party's office in Baqubah was attacked, said Jamal al-Karbouli, 44, the party's secretary general. And its candidate in Anbar province survived a sniper attack Thursday, Karbouli said. He blamed Jubouri's killing on rival political parties.

"These parties can't compete honestly because they don't understand honest and democratic competition, so whoever assassinated our candidate today are people in the authority," Karbouli said. "Because the parties that are going to lose the power in the elections are the parties in power now."

"This assassination is a clear message to terrify people voting for us and an attempt to harm the stability of Iraq," he added.

Special correspondents in Mosul and Baqubah contributed to this report.

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