BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraq’s top leaders in a show of solidarity attended the funeral Saturday of a prominent Sunni lawmaker assassinated outside a mosque, in an attack seen as an attempt to destabilize sectarian relations in the country.
The funeral for Harith al-Obeidi, the leader of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, was held at Baghdad’s Convention Center a day after he was gunned down leaving a mosque after delivering a sermon.
There have been no immediate claims of responsibility for the killing, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered an investigation into the attack.
During the funeral, which was broadcast on all of Iraq’s television stations, lawmakers vowed the killing would not set back security gains in Iraq.
“His assassination is an attempt to embarrass al-Maliki’s government, the reconciliation project and renew the chaos and turmoil of the past,” said Sheik Kheir-Allah al-Basri, a Shiite lawmaker.
Al-Obeidi, 47, the moderate leader of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament was killed a day after colleagues said he called on parliament to summon interior and defense ministry officials to answer allegations of torture in Iraqi jails.
Sunni lawmaker Dhafir al-Ani applauded al-Obeidi’s political moderation.
“Al-Obeidi established a school of moderation inside the parliament. He expressed his position with courage and without any fear,” he said.
Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi told Iraqiya TV after the funeral that al-Obeidi was “the martyr of the whole of Iraq.”
“Al-Obeidi was one of the pillars of the political process and the political moderation. He had an important role in parliament,” Abdul-Mahdi said.
A gunman attacked al-Obeidi and a bodyguard in a mosque courtyard in western Baghdad, and then killed himself after detonating a grenade as he tried to flee, according to Iraqi officials.
Two caskets, al-Obeidi and his bodyguard, were carried outside the Convention Center by an Iraqi military honor guard.
Al-Obeidi took the helm of the Iraqi Accordance Front, which holds 44 seats in the 275-member parliament, in May after his predecessor Ayad al-Samarraie became the parliamentary speaker. His death leaves a power vacuum in the three-party bloc at a crucial time as politicians and parties are jockeying for power ahead of next January’s elections.