Roadside Bomb Kills Hamza, Second SIIC Leader Targeted in Two Weeks
The governor of a southern Iraqi province was killed by roadside bomb on Monday morning, the second assassination of a top provincial official and Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council member in two weeks.Muthanna Governor Muhammad al-Hassani was on his way from his home in the city of Rumaitha to Samawa, the provincial capital, traveling in a nine-vehicle convoy when an explosive device went off near his motorcade, killing him and at least one bodyguard, and injuring a number of his security detail. Local authorities immediately slapped a curfew on the entire province, according to VOI.
The assassination comes just 10 days after a similar attack killed the Diwaniyah governor, Khalil Jalil Hamza, who was also an SIIC member.
Hadi al-Ameri, an Iraqi parliamentarian and head of the Badr Organization, the armed wing of SIIC, blamed remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime for the killing.
“The purpose behind these assassinations is to create Shi’ite-Shi’ite strife,” Ameri told Reuters.
A caller to Reuters from the previously unheard of group Ansar Allah claimed responsibility for killing Hassani, accusing him of corruption. The claim could not be verified.
Analysts fear the turf war will escalate as the SIIC and the Sadrists try to strengthen their powerbases ahead of provincial elections expected in 2008.
“This is part of a settling of scores prior to the elections next year,” said a senior Shi’ite official who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the subject.
“I don’t think there will be a Shi’ite bloodbath because a decision has been taken to act with restraint. But more assassinations of some figures are expected,” he told Reuters.
He said Hassani had played a key role in facing elements which had taken up arms against the government, an apparent reference to rogue elements of the Mahdi Army.
According to AP, police quickly laid blame on the Mahdi Army, which is nominally loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and has been involved in several recent clashes with its rivals.
“There was nothing against the governor inside the province except the confrontations between Mahdi Army and SIIC, which have claimed the lives of dozens of people,” an officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution.
Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office issued a statement condemning the assassination, saying it had ordered and investigation and calling for restraint against retaliation.
“Those behind this horrible crime want to flood the province with chaos and insecurity, thus implementing an agenda of hatred that does not want any good for our people,” the prime minister said in the statement.
“Therefore, we call on our people in the Muthanna province to exercise self-restraint and avoid the trap set by this act,” he added. “Meanwhile our armed forces are ordered to confront with full zeal and force any one who tries to destabilize the province.”