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Iraq sentences Sunni leader to death


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POSTED: Friday, November 20, 2009

BAGHDAD—A leader of a Sunni Awakening Council was sentenced to death for kidnapping and murder on Thursday, setting off charges that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government was trying to weaken the Sunni movement, which is credited with much of the reduction of sectarian violence here since 2006.

The Sunni leader, Adil al-Mashhadani, who led the Awakening militia in the impoverished Fadhil neighborhood of Baghdad, was arrested in March on charges of terrorism. His arrest set off 24 hours of fighting between Awakening members and American and Iraqi security forces, after which the government dissolved the Fadhil council.

A spokesman for the Justice Ministry, Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, provided no further details about the crime.

The Awakening Councils, also known as the Sons of Iraq, are local groups, including former insurgents and Baathists, who turned against the insurgency and received pay, first from the Americans and now from the Iraqis. Under their agreement with the government, they have tacit amnesty for past acts of sectarian violence but not for crimes like murder.

Other Awakening leaders had mixed reactions to al-Mashhadani's sentencing. “;Nobody is above the law,”; said Nabil Ahmed, an Awakening leader in the Adhamiya neighborhood.

Ahmed Qais, also of Adhamiya, said that al-Mashhadani had “;saved his neighborhood from the killing, displacement and sectarianism”; and that the government had falsely imprisoned other Awakening members.

Al-Mashhadani has long been a controversial figure, described by some in Fadhil as a protector, others as a brutal extortionist who buried victims alive.

Many Fadhil residents said that al-Mashhadani was not in police custody but was in Turkey, and that the courts announced the sentence to incite Sunni violence and justify a government crackdown. Some said the plan was led by Iranians in the government.

“;The situation has gotten worse since his arrest, and now it's going to be even worse,”; said Ahmed Saad, 38, who works in manufacturing. “;He's an honest guy. For this reason he's eliminated. Now we are afraid to be killed by the Iranians and al-Qaida. Al Sahwa”;—an Arabic term for the councils—“;and Sunnis are being targeted by the government and the Iranians.”;

Other residents said that since al-Mashhadani's arrest, insurgent groups had returned to the neighborhood, along with heavy numbers of Iraqi military and police forces. They say that includes al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, a mostly homegrown Sunni insurgent group that is thought to have some foreign support.

But some residents, like Mustafa Raad Yusef, 32, said that al-Mashhadani and the council were destructive forces in Fadhil. “;I want them to execute Adil al-Mashhadani because he's the only one who made the situation difficult,”; Yusef said. “;And he made Al Sahwa a clear enemy for all.”;

Also on Thursday, Iraq's lawmakers were scrambling to solve a crisis touched off by the veto of a law governing the coming national election, which threatens to delay the voting for the 12th time. The measure was vetoed Wednesday by one of the country's two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi,who said it did not provide enough representation for minorities or Iraqis living abroad. The White House has pushed heavily for passage of the law so the election can take place in January, as required by the constitution.

Throwing matters into confusion on Thursday, two members of parliament announced that the federal court had overturned the veto as unconstitutional, but the speaker of parliament, Ayad al-Samarrai, said the court had issued no such ruling. He called on Parliament to vote on the veto on Saturday, amending the law if necessary.

Elsewhere in Iraq, gunmen killed four members of the Kurdish security force, the pesh merga, in the Sangar district west of Mosul in northern Iraq. Also in Mosul, an improvised explosive device killed two policemen and wounded two others; also, gunmen killed an Egyptian man, and a civilian was shot dead in the Suk al-Ma'ashi district.

In Doura, south of Baghdad, a bomb exploded in a restaurant, wounding nine people. A bomb in the Jalawla district north of Baqouba killed a civilian and another.

Mohammed Hussein and Muhammed al-Obaidi contributed reporting.