BAGHDAD (AP) – Gunmen killed a Sunni Arab cleric and wounded his son at a town northeast of Baghdad where a suicide bomber struck a Kurdish funeral this week, security officials said Friday. They said Sheik Abdul-Kareem Saleh was walking home with his son Thursday evening when gunmen shot them and fled on foot. Saleh is the imam of the Grand Mosque at Jalula in Diyala province some 80 miles (120 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad.
The officials at Diyala’s Operations Command spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release the information.
Amer Rifaat, member of the Diyala provincial council, said Saleh’s killers used pistols with silencers. Rifaat, also a member of the council’s security committee, blamed al-Qaida militants for the killing.
The predominantly Arab town of Jalula was the site of Monday’s bombing that killed at least 23 people. It underlined Arab-Kurdish tensions over control of areas in north and northeast Iraq that Kurds want to incorporate into their self-ruled region. That attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida which, together with affiliated militant groups, has widely been blamed for numerous past attacks on Iraqi Kurds.
U.S. officials believe Kurdish-Arab tension is among the major flashpoint issues threatening Iraqi stability now that the threat posed by Sunni and Shiite insurgents has been diminished. That is particularly worrying because the U.S. military will begin to draw down this year and the last American soldier will leave Iraq by 2012.
Last August a suicide bomber killed 25 people, mostly police volunteers, in Jalula. The Iraqi army forced out Kurdish fighters of Jalula’s self-ruled Kurdish government last year after a standoff that U.S. officials feared would lead to armed conflict.