BAGHDAD, (AP) – Gunmen in northern Iraq killed a newly elected lawmaker from a Sunni-backed list that narrowly won Iraq’s March elections, officials said, in a slaying certain to rattle the fragile political system.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Sunni lawmaker’s allies in the Iraqiya coalition said Monday’s shooting was politically motivated. His death, in the former insurgent hotbed of Mosul, was sure to further destabilize Iraqi politics, as the country’s leaders continue to haggle over the makeup of a new government nearly three months after a parliamentary election.
A spokesman for the Iraqiya list said Bashar Mohammed Hamid Ahmed was killed in a drive-by shooting as he was on his way home, making him the first lawmaker to die since the March 7 election.
“We condemn this criminal act. The motivation of this killing is purely political after the outstanding victory achieved by Iraqiya in the elections and it is part of the vicious scheme carried out by some groups that want to keep anarchy in this country,” said Osama al-Nujaifi, who heads the Iraqiya coalition in Ninevah province, where Mosul is located.
Iraqiya, headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, won 91 seats in parliament, in large part due to Sunni support in areas such as Ninevah.
Iraqiya narrowly beat a coalition led by Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which won 89 seats. Because neither bloc won an outright majority, both are competing to form a governing coalition.
More than two months after the election, there are still no certified results.
As the election impasse has dragged on, it has raised fears that the political fighting may spill over into violence on the streets.
Sunni officials have sometimes been targeted by insurgent groups, who see them as collaborators with the Shiite-backed government.
Mosul, and areas in Ninevah province, are also at the center of a dispute between Kurds and Arabs. The Kurds claim that a large swath of territory from the Syrian to the Iranian borders should be part of their autonomous region; the Arabs argue it belongs with the rest of Iraq.
Those tensions have been particularly tense in Mosul, where Kurds have boycotted provincial council meetings for over a year because they are demanding more representation on the elected body.
U.S. officials have worried that the conflict could prove to be just as problematic as the Sunni-Shiite tensions so dominant in the rest of the country.
The Iraqiya spokesman, Abdul-Rahman al-Budeir, said authorities arrested two suspects, but the head of the security committee in the provincial council, Abdul-Rahim al-Shamari, said police arrested one suspect at the scene.
The lawmaker’s driver was also wounded in the attack.
The 35-year-old Ahmed was married with two children.
Earlier on Monday, a roadside bomb exploded in western Mosul, injuring two soldiers in an Iraqi army patrol, according to a Mosul police official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Meanwhile, an Iraqi election official said the election commission has received challenges to two lawmakers who just won seats in the election, a development that threatens to extend a contentious process just as it looked like the election impasse might be ending.
Sardar Abdul-Karim, a member of the election commission, said they received a letter from the Office of the General Commander of the Armed Forces, which falls under the prime minister, informing them that Furat Muhsin is not eligible to be in parliament because he also is currently a general in the Iraqi army. Muhsin won a seat with the Iranian-backed Iraqi National Alliance.
The INA has formed a coalition with al-Maliki’s State of Law list, but fierce opposition within the INA to al-Maliki serving a second term has put the new alliance on shaky ground.
The other challenge came from the Interior Ministry, alleging that Abdullah Hassan al-Jabouri, who won a seat with Iraqiya, should be disqualified because he has a criminal record.
The electoral commission asked the Supreme Court to decide both cases and is awaiting a decision, Abdul-Karim said.
It was not immediately clear why the challenges were being raised months after the election and after the candidates’ names were first submitted to the election commission or whether the challenges, if approved, would alter the outcome of the vote.