Sunnis protest slaying of tribal leader, group claims responsibility for car bombing |

Sunnis protest slaying of tribal leader, group claims responsibility for car bombing

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Sunni Arabs protested the slaying of a respected sheik Friday, and a little-known Sunni group said a deadly car bombing was retaliation for the shooting death. Prosecutors said a key witness in Saddam Hussein’s trial has died of cancer, but his testimony has been recorded and can still be used.Meanwhile, a videotape posted on the Internet – allegedly by al-Qaida in Iraq – purportedly showed how the terror group planned and carried out the Oct. 24 triple suicide attack against the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, in which 17 people were killed.A narrator said the Palestine – headquarters of The Associated Press, Fox News and others – was occupied “by foreign journalists and security companies” but indicated the Sheraton was the main target because it housed “assassination teams, intelligence groups” and American soldiers.The videotape’s authenticity could not be verified but it appeared on an Islamic Web site known for publishing messages from militant groups.In northwestern Baghdad, more than 200 members of the Batta tribe gathered at a mosque carrying banners and chanting slogans to demand the resignation of the defense minister in the slaying Wednesday of Khadim Sarhid al-Hemaiyem.One of the sheik’s brothers said gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms and vehicles broke into the family home, killing al-Hemaiyem, three of his sons and his son-in-law. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry denied that government forces were involved.Another one of al-Hemaiyem’s sons was killed by men in uniform last month, family members said.”We want the Arab League and the Sunni scholars to investigate,” said Abdullah Jawad Khadim al-Battawi, a relative.A statement from the little-known Partisans of the Sunni claimed it carried out the car bombing Thursday in the mostly Shiite city of Hillah in retaliation for the slaying of al-Hemaiyem and other attacks against Sunni Arabs.Eleven people were killed and 17 were wounded in the Hillah attack.”We have warned the (Shiites) to stop assassinations and detentions and torture,” the statement posted Friday on an Islamist Web site said. “You should know, your blood is no more dear than ours. You kill our men, we kill yours. You kill our sheiks, we kill yours. You started this war.”An Interior Ministry official said security forces were aware of the Partisans group, which has been active in the area south of Baghdad for months. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to media, said authorities suspect the same group was behind a suicide car bombing Thursday near a hospital in Mahmoudiya that killed 30 people.However, the Partisans statement did not mention the Mahmoudiya attack.Also Friday, a prosecutor in Saddam’s trial said a key witness in the case has died of cancer but his testimony already had been taped for presentation in the proceedings, which are set to resume Monday.Wadah Ismael al-Sheik died Oct. 27, four days after talking to court officials, said Jaafar al-Mousawi, the main prosecutor. Al-Sheik was a senior Iraqi intelligence officer at the time of the Dujail massacre in 1982 that Saddam and seven other co-defendants are charged with.If convicted, Saddam and the others could face the death penalty for their role in the killing of nearly 150 people from the mainly Shiite town north of Baghdad after a failed assassination attempt.Court officials said al-Sheik could have been charged in future cases leveled against Saddam had he lived.The Saddam trial resumes following a five-week recess granted by the court to give the defense time to study the evidence. The trial could raise sectarian tensions ahead of the Dec. 15 national elections. Saddam’s regime was dominated by Sunnis, and the trial involves the deaths of Shiites.More than 250 people have been killed since Nov. 18 in car bombings and suicide attacks against Shiite targets.In sermons during Friday worship services, several Sunni preachers spoke out against sectarian violence and urged followers to vote in next month’s elections to increase the minority’s influence in the next government. Many Sunnis boycotted the Jan. 30 elections, essentially handing power to the rival Shiites and Kurds.”We condemn and reject all kind of violence and terrorism that is taking place in our country to kill our people,” Sheik Mahmoud al-Sumaidaei told the congregation at Baghdad’s Umm al-Qura mosque. “I regret that some religious figures still remain silent in the face of what is going on.”U.S. officials hope that a big Sunni turnout will encourage members of the community to turn away from the insurgency, hastening the day when American and other international troops can go home. Sunnis form about 20 percent of Iraq’s 27 million people but are the backbone of the insurgency.Vail, Colorado

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