A top official of Iraq’s biggest Sunni party escaped assassination in a Baghdad car bombing on Wednesday that killed at least two other people — only 10 days ahead of a major election that could reshape local power bases.
The US military has blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq for the attack on Ziyad al-Ani, deputy secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party and dean of the Islamic University, a Sunni institution.
His party said the blast was a “dangerous indication” of the perilous security in Iraq, even as US President Barack Obama prepares to shift the US’ focus to Afghanistan.
The blast occurred when a car blew up near al-Ani’s convoy as it traveled through the former Sunni insurgent stronghold of Azamiyah in northern Baghdad.
Al-Ani, who said he survived two other assassination attempts last year, was not injured.
There were conflicting casualty reports, as is common in Iraq.
The US military initially reported college guards were killed but later said two Iraqi civilians had died. Iraqi police and hospital officials reported four people killed in the attack. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
It was also unclear whether al-Ani was targeted because of his party position or his job as an educator.
Roadside bombs struck a convoy carrying an undersecretary of the Ministry of Higher Education on Tuesday and the minister himself on Jan. 15. None of the officials was injured.
Al-Ani said he believed al-Qaeda was to blame. Al-Qaeda largely controlled Azamiyah for years before rival Sunni tribal leaders decided to join forces with the US.
“The motive of the attack is to destroy the educational system and afterward the political process,” al-Ani said. “They want to return us to square one, when they were able to spread chaos and terror through assassination attempts.”
The US military has warned that insurgents would likely step up attacks ahead of the Jan. 31 vote for ruling councils in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Al-Ani was not a candidate in the elections.