BAGHDAD, Iraq, (AP) – Gunmen wearing military uniforms assassinated the brother of Iraq’s Sunni Arab vice president in his home Monday — the third sibling the official has lost this year to the country’s violence.
Elsewhere, 11 Iraqi soldiers were kidnapped in a brazen attack on a checkpoint in Sadr City, a Shiite district in Baghdad. The government also said Iraqi forces had arrested a high-ranking member of the al-Qaida in Iraq terror organization.
Lt. Gen. Amir al-Hashimi, a Defense Ministry adviser and the brother of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, was killed by gunmen who entered his north Baghdad home wearing military uniforms, said ministry spokesman Brig. Qassim al-Moussawi.
Insurgents have often targeted the families of prominent politicians in an apparent effort to intimidate the country’s leaders.
The general’s death came five months after the vice president’s sister and another brother were killed within two weeks of each other, both in shootings in the Iraqi capital. Two militiamen were arrested shortly after the slaying of al-Hashimi’s sister, but the government did not say whether they were part of a Shiite or Sunni group.
Tariq al-Hashimi is Iraq’s most prominent Sunni Arab political figure. In September, the vice president urged Sunni-led insurgents to quickly join Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s national reconciliation effort. Earlier, he had called for the insurgency to be put down by force.
Al-Maliki condemned the killing Monday as an “ugly, terrorist crime.”
“This wicked aggression shows that the criminal gangs behind it are aiming at hindering the political process and igniting sectarian strife,” al-Maliki said in a statement.
Sunni politicians blamed the killing on the failure of al-Maliki’s government to disband Shiite militias. Sunni leaders accuse the prime minister of hesitating to take action because many of the militias belong to political parties that his government relies on for support.
“We say to the government, you still did not disarm the militias,” Sunni politician Salim Abdullah Tawfiq said in a statement read in parliament. “And here is what it has led to.”
U.S. officials have also shown increasing impatience with al-Maliki’s failure to rein in militias fueling the Shiite-Sunni killings that many believe now pose a greater threat to Iraq’s stability than al-Qaida or the anti-U.S. insurgency.
Meanwhile, in west Baghdad, the Iraqi army arrested an al-Qaida in Iraq suspect identified as Sabah Ireimit al-Issawi, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said. Al-Askari said the man is a high-ranking member of the terrorist organization but did not provide further details.
Elsewhere, in an audacious morning strike, gunmen jumped out of two vehicles at a checkpoint in the east Baghdad district of Sadr City and abducted 11 soldiers on duty, said police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud.
The identities of the gunmen were unknown, but Sadr City is a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It came a day after U.S. and Iraqi forces said they killed 30 Mahdi Army fighters in a battle in the southern city of Diwaniyah.
On Sunday evening, 350 to 400 policemen suffered food poisoning during a meal at a base south of Baghdad, al-Moussawi said, denying a report that 11 officers had died.
It was not known whether the poisoning was accidental or intentional. Al-Moussawi said it was under investigation and “a number of people have been arrested, including the man in charge of the mess hall.”
Sunni insurgents have not been known to use poison as a weapon against the security forces. The poisoned officers belong to the 4th Division of the National Police, whose officers are mainly Shiites.
In other violence, five police officers were killed Monday in separate attacks in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, officials said. In the deadliest attack, police Lt. Col. Ahmed Taha and another policeman were gunned down in Khalis. When a police patrol arrived, a roadside bomb exploded, killing two other police and wounding a third, officials said.
Also Monday, gunmen killed police Lt. Col. Salih al-Karkhi in the Diyala capital of Baqouba, police said.
In west Baghdad, two security guards at a municipal building were killed by unidentified gunmen, police 1st Lt. Maithem Razzaq said.
And in the northern town of Tal Afar, a suicide car bomber slammed into a police checkpoint, killing one policeman, police chief Brig. Sabah Humaidi said. It was the second suicide car attack in the city in three days. On Saturday, a bomber drove his car into another checkpoint, killing 14.
Bombings and other attacks have been increasing in northern Iraq, although the casualty toll has been lower than in Baghdad, where sectarian death squads have killed thousands in recent months. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been carrying out an intense security campaign in Baghdad to root out insurgents and militias.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry on Monday introduced new uniforms for certain police units, responding to reports that some of the death squad killings have been carried out by people dressed as policemen. New markings for cars are also being introduced.
“These new uniforms and new standard markings for vehicles begin the process of change,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson, in charge of Iraqi police training.