BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms broke into the home of a senior Sunni leader on Wednesday and killed him, his three sons and his son-in-law on the outskirts of Baghdad, his brother and an interior ministry official said.
Khadim Sarhid al-Hemaiyem was the leader of the Sunni Batta tribe and the brother of a parliamentary candidate in the Dec. 15 election, the official Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi said. Another of the slain man”s brothers said the family has been attacked before.
"A group of gunmen with Iraqi army uniforms and vehicles broke into my brother”s house in the Hurriyah area and sprayed them with machine gun fire, killing him along with three sons and his son-in law," said his brother, Nima Sarhid Al-Hemaiyem. "His eldest son was assassinated one month ago in the Taji area, northern Baghdad, when unidentified men shot and killed him."
Al-Mohammedawi said government forces were not involved and the investigation was focused on insurgents.
"Surely, they are outlaw insurgents. As for the military uniform, they can be bought from many shops in Baghdad," he said. "Also, we have several police and army vehicles stolen and they can be used in the raids."
The slaying follows a big push by U.S. officials to encourage Sunni Muslim participation in the upcoming election, which will install the first non-transitional government in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Some Sunni-led insurgent groups have declared a boycott of the election and have threatened politicians who choose to participate in it.
The Batta tribe is one of Iraq”s largest Sunni tribes from the area north of Baghdad, where they are influential. Dozens of people went to al-Hemaiyem”s home, where the bodies were laid out, wrapped in blankets before the funeral.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. military announced a new operation with Iraqi troops in predominantly Sunni western Iraq. The operation launched Tuesday in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is aimed at preventing insurgents from interfering with voting there, a U.S. military statement said. It is the third operation in Ramadi since Nov. 16.
U.S. Marines announced Tuesday the end of a major operation to secure towns along the Syrian border used by al-Qaida to smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq. Ten U.S. Marines and 139 insurgents were killed in "Operation Steel Curtain," which began Nov. 5 with about 2,500 U.S. troops and 1,000 Iraqi soldiers, a military statement said.
U.S. commanders plan to establish a long-term presence in the area to prevent al-Qaida and its Iraqi allies from re-establishing themselves in the towns of Husaybah, Karabilah and Obeidi along the Euphrates River.
In a positive development, a senior government official said a representative of an unidentified insurgent group responded to an offer by President Jalal Talabani to talk with those willing to lay down their arms.
Presidential adviser Lt. Gen. Wafiq al-Samaraei told Qatar”s Al-Jazeera television Tuesday night that he had received a call from someone "who claimed to be a senior official of the resistance."
"I informed him that I would welcome him in a meeting to hear from him, but this doesn”t indicate our acceptance of their demands," he said.
Al-Samaraei, a former head of military intelligence under Saddam, did not identify the caller, and it was unclear whether the overture represented a breakthrough.
On Tuesday, a suicide bomber struck a busy commercial street in Kirkuk, leaving 22 dead, another 23 people were wounded, after insurgents lured police to the scene by shooting an officer, officials said.
Half the dead were police who rushed to the scene after gunmen killed a fellow officer, according to police Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qader. The blast was just the latest of many in Kirkuk, a mixed Arab, Kurdish and Turkoman city in an oil-producing region 180 miles north of Baghdad.
More than 160 Iraqis, most of them Shiites, have died in a wave of spectacular suicide operations across Iraq since Friday.