Iraqi police chief killed in drive-by shooting
KUFA, Iraq – The police chief in a city south of Baghdad was killed in a drive-by attack and a chief in a neighboring province was buried Saturday, a day on which supporters of a firebrand cleric also expressed increasingly vocal anti-American sentiment.
The assassination Saturday morning of the police chief of Mahmoudiya, a city 20 miles south of Baghdad, the capital, came a few hours before the funeral of the chief of this southern town, who was gunned down Friday afternoon on his way home from the police station. More than 350 Iraqi police have been killed in attacks during the past year, and the past two days’ attacks show that the onslaught is continuing.
Attacks on Westerners are common in Mahmoudiya, at the southern edge of the so-called Sunni triangle,where Iraqi police who are seen as collaborators also come under fire. Seven Spanish intelligence officers were killed there late last year. A missionary and two local staff for CNN were killed there earlier this year. There also have been many attacks on Iraqi police, including the assassination of the police chief of Latifiyeh, a neighboring town.
Another indication of the volatile situation came Saturday morning, as thousands of members of a militia loyal to the Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr marched through a section of Baghdad. The demonstration came after a newspaper published by Sadr’s organization was shut down by the occupying coalition last week for allegedly publishing incendiary articles advocating resistance to the U.S.-led occupation.
Sadr, 30, draws much of his support from the legacy of his father, a revered cleric who is believed to have been assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s security forces in 1999.
Sadr has not agitated for direct violence against the occupying authorities, but his followers have been increasingly vocal. Thousands thronged outside coalition headquarters in Baghdad on Friday. Sadr announced during prayers that day that he was allying himself with the Islamic militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas. Like Saturday’s marchers, those demonstrators were largely unarmed.
Iraq’s Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the population, generally have refrained from violent resistance. Most attacks have come from areas populated by Sunnis loyal to the former Saddam regime.
The heart of that resistance is the city of Fallujah, just west of Baghdad, where four American military contractors were killed and mutilated Wednesday. U.S. military officials have promised a tough response but have not said when it would occur. On Saturday afternoon, residents emptied the city streets and shopkeepers closed early in anticipation of retaliation.
Although they did not criticize the killing of the contractors, several residents condemned the treatment of their corpses as contrary to Islam.
“It was a tragic mistake committed by people who do not belong to this city,” said Abdullah Abood, 45, who owns a market in Fallujah.
In contrast to the eerie calm around Fallujah, the Shiite south was restless Saturday. Officials in Sadr’s organization said that coalition-led troops had detained one of their senior clerics, Mustafa Yaqoubi. But a spokesman for the Spanish military, which controls that area, insisted that there had been no detention.
Regardless, hundreds of demonstrators converged on the base of Spanish-led troops in Kufa, chanting: “No, no to America and Israel,” and demanding Yaqoubi’s liberation.
Hameed Sulaibi in Fallujah and Saad Fakhr in Najaf contributed to this report.