Tue, Nov 23, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Anti-election Sunni cleric killed by gunmen in Mosul

AP , SHARM EL-SHEIK, EGYPT AND BAGHDAD

Gunmen yesterday assassinated a member of an influential Sunni clerics' group that has called for a boycott of elections, just a day after Iraqi officials announced the balloting would be held Jan. 30 in spite of rising violence in Iraq.

Sheik Faidh Mohamed Amin al-Faidhi, a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, was shot by gunmen at his home in northern Mosul -- a sign of the continuing violence that wracks the country.

Iraq's first elections since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship are scheduled for Jan. 30, and Iraqi authorities said ballots will be cast even in volatile areas -- including Fallujah, Mosul and other parts of the Sunni Triangle

The vote for the 275-member National Assembly is seen as a major step toward building democracy after years of Saddam's tyranny.

The ongoing violence, which escalated this month with the US-led offensive against Fallujah, has raised fears voting will be nearly impossible in insurgency-torn regions -- or that Sunni Arabs angry at the US-Iraqi crackdown will reject the election. If either takes place, it could undermine the vote's legitimacy.

Elsewhere yesterday, a US patrol that came under attack returned fire, killing two attackers, according to eyewitnesses. The insurgents launched the attack in Hawija, about 240km north of Baghdad. The US military had no immediate confirmation.

The former police chief of the northern city of Mosul was arrested after allegations that his force allowed insurgents to take over police stations during this month's uprising, Deputy Governor Khasro Gouran said yesterday.

Brigadier General Mohammed Kheiri Barhawi was arrested Sunday by Kurdish militia in northern Irbil, where he fled after he was fired in the wake of the uprising.

Meanwhile, countries taking part in the conference on Iraq differ on how to assist the nation, but they strongly support the interim government's efforts to crush the insurgency and hold elections in January, delegates said yesterday.

The conference, which is scheduled to end today, will not set a deadline for the withdrawal of the US-led multinational force, as desired by France and some Middle Eastern countries, according to a copy of the draft final communique obtained by reporters.

Iraq has asked Egypt to convene the conference in a bid to augment support for its battle against insurgents and its plan to hold elections. The two-day meeting brings together the neighboring states of Iraq, plus Egypt and several other Arab countries, China, as well as regional bodies such as the G8, UN, EU, Arab League and the OIC.

Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa toured the region seeking support for a withdrawal of foreign forces.

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