BAGHDAD, (AP) – Gunmen killed a Shiite cleric and outspoken critic of sectarian militias in an ambush on a car that also carried the victim’s wife, mother and sister, Iraqi police said Sunday.
The cleric, Haider al-Saymari, was killed Saturday in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. His relatives were not harmed, said a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Al-Saymari, 38, was a follower of Iraq’s top Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a moderate. Al-Saymari was known as a critic of extremists and armed groups in Basra, particularly the Mahdi Army militia of al-Sistani’s rival, radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Saymari had lived and worked in the holy Iranian city of Qom since 1991, but returned to his native Iraq to take part in a Shiite religious ceremony earlier this month.
On Saturday, he was driving back to Iran. In downtown Basra, gunmen firing from a car ambushed al-Saymari’s van, which also carried his relatives. Al-Saymari was rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
In other violence on Sunday, assailants attacked police patrols in Baghdad and Baqouba, northeast of the capital.
Gunmen driving an ambulance opened fire on a foot patrol in Baqouba, capital of the turbulent Diyala province, killing three policemen and wounding a bystander, police said.
In Baghdad, back-to-back roadside bombs targeting a police patrol killed three Iraqi civilians and wounded 20, including six police officers, police said.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed in violence since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The number of roadside bombs, suicide attacks and sectarian killings has ebbed in recent months after a U.S. troop buildup, a Shiite militia cease-fire and a Sunni revolt against al-Qaeda in Iraq.