Winning candidate from Ayad Allawi's bloc fatally shot in northern Iraq

By Leila Fadel and Jinan Hussein
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

BAGHDAD -- A Sunni Arab politician who won a seat in parliament in March voting was gunned down in front of his home Monday evening in the volatile northern city of Mosul. Bashar Mohammed Hamed al-Agaidi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc of former prime minister Ayad Allawi, was the first elected parliament member to be assassinated since the disputed elections.

Iraqi officials blamed the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq for the killing. Two men were arrested Monday night, and security forces were looking for a third, said the governor of Nineveh province, Atheel al-Nujaifi.

Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and secular Shiite Allawi are battling for first chance to form a government after Allawi's bloc edged out Maliki's in number of parliamentary seats. Maliki's tentative partnership with another Shiite coalition, however, makes him a more likely choice for the top job of premier. Analysts and Western officials worry that if the formation of a government drags on, militants will use the political vacuum to stage attacks and assassination campaigns. Hundreds of people have been killed in bombings and other attacks since the elections.

"The Iraqiya list can change this country, and there are many factions who do not want this change," said Nujaifi, an Iraqiya member. "They do not want Iraq to be stable, so they target Iraqiya."

Agaidi was in his car outside his home when three men drove by in a Mercedes. One emerged through the sunroof and shot Agaidi, said Capt. Suheil al-Karaghouli of the Mosul police. Agaidi, an engineer and the head of a local student and youth organization, died while being treated at a hospital.

Allawi's bloc drew its support largely from Sunnis and secular Shiites. In Nineveh province, a mixed Kurdish and Sunni Arab area, Iraqiya won 20 of 31 seats. Iraqiya will be allowed to replace Agaidi, and his killing will not affect the election results, officials from the bloc said.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq suffered a series of major blows last month when its two top leaders were killed in an airstrike north of Baghdad, its leader in Nineveh was slain and the head of the group's Baghdad operations was arrested. Nineveh remains a center for al-Qaeda in Iraq operations, and officials think much of the group's funding comes from extortion rings in the northern province, where Sunni Arabs and Kurds are in a bitter dispute over territory.

Hussein is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Uthman al-Mokhtar contributed to this report.

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