By Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 14, 2009
BAGHDAD, June 13 -- Iraqis buried a top Sunni lawmaker Saturday in a state funeral attended by politicians from all sects in a gesture toward religious reconciliation.
Harith al-Obaidi, 45, an outspoken critic of human rights abuses by security forces inside Iraqi jails, was shot dead at a mosque after delivering a sermon Friday. A day before, he had announced plans during a session of parliament to summon the ministers of interior, defense and justice to answer widespread allegations of abuse and torture in prisons.
Security officials said a gunman shot Obaidi twice in the back of the head before opening fire on worshipers and throwing a grenade, killing four others. Mosque guards then killed the shooter.
The Interior Ministry blamed his killing on al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group, and politicians said it was an attempt to reignite sectarian tension that persists in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.
"Parliament lost its most active member in defending human rights," said Ayad al-Samarraie, the speaker of parliament. "He was the voice of moderation, and, unfortunately, those kinds of men are always targeted."
Inside a convention center in Baghdad's Green Zone, where the funeral was held, politicians bowed before Obaidi's coffin, wrapped in the Iraqi flag, as they paid their respects. A white-clad military honor guard then carried his casket, and that of an aide also killed in the attack, into the street.
Outside the cemetery where he was buried, an angry crowd chanted: "The Koran is our constitution, the prophet is our leader and jihad is our way."
Mustafa al-Bayati, a Sunni preacher at the mosque where prayers for Obaidi were held, said: "They did not kill him because he is a lawmaker. They killed him because he is Sunni."
Obaidi is the third lawmaker to be assassinated since parliament was elected in 2005, when many Sunnis boycotted the vote. He became head of the biggest Sunni bloc in parliament, the Iraqi Accordance Front, in May after his predecessor was chosen as speaker.
Also on Saturday, the U.S. Embassy announced the release of two U.S. contractors arrested by Iraqi security forces last week in an investigation into the killing of another contractor in the Green Zone. Two other contractors remain in Iraqi custody, while a fifth was released earlier this week.
Special correspondents Aziz Alwan and Zaid Sabah contributed to this report.