US, Iraq launch anti-extremist operation

Updated: 2008-01-09 09:47

Despite the general reduction of violence, attacks against civilians, members of US-backed armed groups mainly known as "awakening councils," and Iraqi security forces continue to kill scores.

On Monday, a double suicide bombing in Baghdad's northern Azamiyah district killed 12 people and wounded 28, including former police Col. Riyadh al-Samarrai, a key leader of the local awakening group.

That attack came days after Osama bin Laden condemned the new American allies in an audiotape released Dec. 29, and said they would "suffer in life and in the afterlife."

The switch of allegiance by insurgents in Azamiyah was one of the most significant in a series of similar moves across Baghdad's Sunni neighborhoods. Azamiyah is home to Iraq's most revered Sunni shrine, the mosque of Imam Abu Hanifa, and many in the area served as officers in Saddam Hussein's army and security agencies.

US military spokesman Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said last week the recent attacks were the "clearest indication" that al-Qaida in Iraq -- believed to consist mainly of Iraqis but to have foreign leadership -- was worried about losing the support of its fellow Sunni Arabs.

Monday's bombing occurred at the entrance of a Sunni Endowment office, a government agency that cares for Sunni mosques and shrines, and near an Awakening Council office in Azamiyah, which had been a stronghold of Sunni insurgents and a safe haven for al-Qaida in Iraq.

Sunni Endowment leader Ahmed Abdul Ghafur al-Samarrai -- who is from the same tribe as the former colonel -- blamed bin Laden for the attack.

"Those criminal gangs fled from al-Anbar province to Azamiyah neighborhood for bloodshed and to abuse the dignity of the people," he said.

On Tuesday, banners erected by the local awakening council bearing words of condolence hung on walls and at intersections in Azamiyah. A three-day funeral was planned for al-Samarrai.

In a separate attack, police said on Tuesday that gunmen kidnapped eight members of a newly-formed US-backed Shiite armed group in northern Baghdad's Shaab neighborhood, one of the capital's most dangerous areas and a center for outlawed Shiite fighters.

The men were manning a checkpoint when they were kidnapped Monday night, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information. Last Sunday, the head of the group, Sheik Ismaiel Abbas, was shot to death in Shaab.

Elsewhere in the capital Tuesday, the head of the municipality of Baghdad's primarily Sunni neighborhood of Yarmouk was killed when a bomb attached to his car exploded, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information.

To the south, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a checkpoint manned by police special forces in the Madain area, about 15 miles southeast of Baghdad, killing two members of the special forces and wounding five people, police said.

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