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VI. Attacks on Government Officials and Politicians

Since mid-2003, insurgent groups have repeatedly attacked Iraqi government officials and politicians. Various armed groups have killed dozens, if not hundreds, of local and national government officials and political party officials, as well as judges, by means of assassination squads, roadside bombs and suicide attacks. A total figure is not known due to the magnitude of the attacks and the absence of a comprehensive reporting scheme. Political figures have also been the target of criminally motivated attacks.

Insurgent groups like the Islamic Army in Iraq, Ansar al-Sunna and al-Tawhid wal-Jihad haverepeatedly claimed responsibility for attacks on government officials. In the run-up to the January 30, 2005, elections for the Transitional National Assembly, various groups warned Iraqis not to take part, with leaflets in neighborhoods addressed, for example, to “everyone who wants to stand in the queues of elections, the queues of doom and death.”167 Some insurgent groups viewed Iraq’s Interim Governing Council as a body that served the interests of the United States. “Our position is clear—they are all spies, traitors, and agents for the Americans,” said a spokesman for Jaysh Muhammad, one of the larger Sunni groups.168

One of the most prominent political killings was on August 29, 2003, when a car bomb outside the Imam Ali Mosque in al-Nafaj, killed Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, head of SCIRI, and more than eighty-two other people (see chapter IV of this report, “Attacks on Ethnic and Religious Groups”).

Shi`a politicians have since been a regular target of insurgent attacks. On September 20, 2003, unknown gunmen in west Baghdad shot `Aqila al-Hashimi, one of three female members of the U.S.-appointed Interim Governing Council, and she died five days later. A Shi`a Muslim and former diplomat, `Aqila al-Hashimi was preparing to leave for New York as part of the Iraqi delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. One eyewitness told the press: “I saw a pick-up truck and a Mercedes pull up just as she was leaving in her Land Cruiser with her bodyguards following in a second car.” He continued:

There were men hiding in the back of the pick-up with guns who jumped up and started firing. As her car tried to escape, someone threw a grenade. I saw her brother, who was one of her bodyguards, come running with blood on his face, shouting ‘My sister, my sister!’169

According to members of al-Hashimi’s security detail, the assailants first fired a rocket-propelled grenade, missing her car, and then opened fire with Kalashnikov assault rifles.170 `Aqila al-Hashimi arrived at the al-Yarmuk hospital around 10:30 a.m. with serious abdominal wounds, and was taken to a U.S. military hospital.171 She underwent two surgeries and died on September 25.172

`Aqila al-Hashimi’s replacement on the governing council was another Shi`a woman, a dentistry professor named Salama al-Khafaji, who was active in the dentists’ union after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government (see photo in Chapter XI of this report, “Attacks on Women”). On January 16, 2004, gunmen in Iraqi police uniforms attacked Salama al-Khafaji’s convoy in Baghdad, but her bodyguards returned fire, and no one was hurt. Four months later, on May 27, unidentified assailants ambushed her convoy again, this time near al-Yusufiyya, south of Baghdad, killing her bodyguard and her eldest son Ahmad.

Salama al-Khafaji was driving from al-Najaf to Baghdad in the early evening when four men in a red Opel overtook her three-car convoy. The Opel turned around and sped back in the opposite direction, al-Khafaji told a journalist who profiled her life. “They looked at us and knew who we were. They went away to get their weapons and came back,” she explained. “I saw Ahmad’s car veering off the road into a canal, but there was so much dust that I couldn’t really see what happened.” To save her life, al-Khafaji’s driver sped away.

That night al-Khafaji learned that her bodyguard had been killed, and her son’s body was found the following day. “When I was in Najaf, I met many women who had lost their sons, husbands, brothers and I was very moved by their desire for peace,” she said in the profile. “It’s the women who have suffered the most under this occupation. And that’s why it’s women who want peace the most.”173

Insurgent groups have targeted individual Kurdish politicians as well. On March 28, 2004, armed men in the al-Karama neighborhood of Mosul tried to assassinate Nasrine Berwari, Minister of Municipalities and Public Works, and one of five Kurdish ministers and the only woman in the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Interim Government. She escaped, but a driver and bodyguard were killed.174 Human Rights Watch interviewed one Kurdish politician, Sadi Ahmad Pire, a PUK political representative in Mosul, who said he had survived three assassination attempts. In March 2004, insurgents attacked his Mosul office with mortars, killing two guards and wounding eight, he said. In July 2004, insurgents attacked his convoy in Mosul with a roadside bomb. And in August 2004, insurgents attacked his convoy with an explosives-laden car. “I had switched cars, and they attacked the old car with a suicide bomb,” he said.175 According to a press report, the attack killed two bystanders and a bodyguard.176

The February 1, 2004, suicide bomber attacks at the Arbil offices of the main Kurdish political parties killed ninety-nine people and wounded 246 (see chapter IV of this report, “Attacks on Ethnic and Religious Groups”). While most of the casualties were Kurdish civilians who were visiting the party offices on the holiday of Eid al-Adha, many party officials were also killed, including Sami Abdul-Rahman, deputy prime minister of the KDP government, Akram Mantiq, governor of Arbil province, Mantiq’s deputy Mahdi Khoshnaw and twelve members of the PUK leadership in Arbil.

Below is a list of the leading Iraqi political figures attacked between March 2003 and July 2005, each based on two or more media sources.177

  • January 28, 2004—A car bomb exploded outside the Baghdad hotel inhabited by Minister of Labor Sami Azara al-Majun. He was not hurt, but three people were killed.

  • May 17, 2004—A car bomb in Baghdad killed acting president of the Interim Governing Council, `Abd al-Zahra `Usman Muhammad, known as ‘Izzedin Salim. Al-Tawhid wal-Jihad later claimed credit for the attack.

  • May 22, 2004—A car bomb at the house of `Abd al-Jabbar Yusuf, Deputy Interior Minister, kills Yusuf and five others. Thirteen people were wounded.

  • July 14, 2004—A group reportedly run by al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for murdering the governor of Nineveh province, `Usama Kachmula, and two of his bodyguards in Mosul.

  • July 17, 2004—Justice Minister Malik Duhan al-Hassan escaped a suicide car bomb attack in Baghdad, but five others were killed.

  • August 24, 2004—A suicide bomber attacks Environment Minister Miskat Mu’min and Education Minister Sami al-Muzaffar. They both survived, but five other people were killed.

  • September 1, 2004—The Islamic Army in Iraq claimed responsibility for an attack on the convoy of Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, in al-Latifiyya, south of Baghdad. Chalabi survived but two of his bodyguards were killed.

  • September 7, 2004—Baghdad governor `Ali Radi al-Haidari escaped an assassination attempt, but two civilians were killed.

  • November 1, 2004—Ansar al-Sunna claimed responsibility for killing the deputy governor of Baghdad, Hassan Kamil `Abd al-Fattah, in the city’s al-Dora district.

  • January 4, 2005—Baghdad Governor `Ali Radi al-Haidari and one of his bodyguards were killed by unidentified assailants in a roadside ambush in the capital.
  • April 27, 2005—Gunmen shot and killed a Shi`a member of parliament, Lamia `Abid Khaduri al-Sagri, as she opened the door of her Baghdad home. Al-Sagri, who had reportedly escaped two previous assassination attempts, had recently been elected to the Iraqi parliament on then-Prime Minister Ayad `Allawi’s Iraqi List.

  • May 8, 2005—Unknown gunmen shoot and kill Zoba Yass, a senior official in the Transportation Ministry, along with his driver in Baghdad.

  • May 14, 2005—Unknown gunmen shoot and kill Jassim Muhammad Ghani, director-general of the Foreign Ministry, outside his home in Baghdad.

  • May 18, 2005—Unknown gunmen in Baghdad shoot and kill Salah Niyazi, an official from the Youth and Sport Ministry.

  • June 28, 2005—A suicide car bomber killed the influential Shi`a member of parliament Dhari `Ali al-Fayadh, his son and two bodyguards as they drove to Baghdad. Al-Fayadh was parliament’s eldest member and was serving as interim speaker. Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.

  • July 19, 2005—Unknown gunmen in Baghdad killed Mijbil Shaikh al-`Issa, a Sunni representative on the Constitution Drafting Committee of the Transitional National Assembly, Dahman al-Jaburi, an adviser to the Committee, and their driver.

    Judges are not included in the above list but they have also been the target of attack. On January 25, 2005, for example, armed men in a car shot and killed Qais Hashim al-Shamari, the secretary of Iraq’s Council of Judges, together with his son. Ansar al-Sunna claimed responsibility for the attack, saying, “the heroes laid a carefully planned trap to one of the symbols of infidelity and apostasy in the new Iraqi government, the administrator of Iraq’s judges.”178 On March 1, 2005, unknown gunmen shot and killed Judge Barawiz Mahmud, who worked for the Iraqi Special Tribunal, and his son as they left their home in Baghdad.179

    In addition to these documented cases, insurgents have threatened, assaulted, abducted and killed hundreds of local officials, including employees at national ministries, provincial governments and municipalities. Typically the persons responsible are unknown. Human Rights Watch interviewed one man who worked in the al-Falluja municipality and fled Iraq after insurgents detained him for two days. The man, who wished to remain anonymous, had previously received warnings to leave his job and then, on May 7, 2004, unknown men abducted him on his way to work. He explained:

    On the first day, they asked me for my name and other personal questions. Then they said, “Didn’t we tell you not to work with the Americans? We are following everything, and we have people in the police and other places.” They took down my name and address and left the room.

    The next day a group of them came. One of them was senior. They addressed him as “shaikh.” He also said, “we told you not to work with the Americans.” I said I was working with the [municipality]. He said “the emir has issued a fatwa ordering your killing. You ate, drank and shook the hands of the infidels, so that makes you an infidel. You are a pig and a monkey just like them.” I was too scared to ask who the emir was. I just said I repent. They told me, “after we kill you, if God wants to forgive you he can.” I said I have a family, and they told me to shut up. They left and then came back five minutes later. They said, “the emir wants to execute the sentence of Islam, but we begged him to give you another chance. But you must leave Iraq, not just Falluja. If you stay, the blood of your wife and children will also be spilled.” One of them held his rifle to my head and cocked the trigger.180

    After his release, insurgents threw hand grenades at his home and burned it down, he said. His wife and children moved out of al-Falluja to live with family elsewhere, and the man fled Iraq, to a country he did not want to identify. Other municipal workers in al-Falluja had been killed, he said. He had found one such person’s body around the town—a first lieutenant who had worked with the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (which was subsequently incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces).181

    The period before the January 30, 2005, Iraqi elections was particularly violent, with almost daily attacks against candidates and election commission officials. Due to threats and attacks, very few political groups had public meetings or campaigns. Most did not release the names of their candidates until days before the vote.

    In a survey of election-related incidents, the U.S.-based International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES) documented 141 cases in the forty-five days prior to the elections, ranging from “vandalism of campaign material to intimidation, death threats, kidnapping, assassination, small arms fire, suicide bombings, and executions.”182 In the seventy cases for which a perpetrator could be determined, “insurgent-initiated violence far outnumbered participant-initiated violence.”183

    For example, on December 26, 2004, gunmen shot and killed Communist Party leader Sa`di `Abd al-Jabbar al-Bayati south of Baghdad.184 Ten days later, on January 5, 2005, gunmen killed Hadi Salih, another Communist Party leader.185 On January 12, gunmen killed two aides to Ayatollah `Ali al-Sistani in Salman Pak and Najaf—Ansar al-Islam claimed responsibility for the killing in Salman Pak.186 On January 17, gunmen killed Shakir Jabir Sahla, a candidate for the Constitutional Monarchy Movement.187 The next day, gunmen in Basra shot and killed two candidates from the Iraqi National Accord, Riad Radi and `Ala’ Hamid.

    Election commission workers were the regular target of threats, harassment and violence by insurgents, which severely impeded their ability to work. In one incident that received Iraqi and international media attention, gunmen pulled five election workers from a car on Baghdad’s Haifa Street on December 19, 2004, and shot three of them to death.188

    As election day approached, election workers increasingly quit their jobs due to threats.
    In one reported example that typified the threats, a Baghdad resident was distributing voter registration papers in his al-Bayya` neighborhood until he received a threatening letter in the mail. “The sword has become very near to your neck,” the letter said. “Leave any work that relates to the elections and stay safe.”189

    Election day was quieter than many had predicted, largely due to well-coordinated security measures and a country-wide ban on car travel. At least one insurgent group stated that it would not attack voters or polling places. The Islamic Front of the Iraqi Resistance, apparently an umbrella organization of various Sunni armed groups, announced on January 27 that, while it condemned the elections as “a farce” that will “serve U.S. interests,” it had ordered its fighters not to attack polling stations or to involve themselves in any way “in shedding one drop of the blood of our honorable Iraqi people.”190

    Insurgent groups have also targeted the family members of politicians. On November 10, 2004, armed men in Baghdad abducted three relatives of then-Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad `Allawi, two of them women. A group called Ansar al-Jihad claimed responsibility and demanded that male and female detainees in Iraq be released and that the U.S. military halt its offensive in al-Falluja. They released the two women four days later and, one week later, they released the man, `Allawi’s seventy-five-year-old cousin.191 After their release, al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility, and said it had released the three `Allawi relatives because they were not involved in the government.192

    [167] “Election Eve Lock-Downs Begin in Iraq,”, January 28, 2005. (See, accessed March 12, 2005.)

    [168] Ali Kais al-Rubai, “Islamists Pledge Continued War on Coalition,” IWPR, May 14, 2004.

    [169]Peter Beaumont, “Senior Iraqi Official Gunned Down—Assassination Attempt Leaves Council Member Fighting for Her Life,” The Observer, September 21, 2003.

    [170] “Shot Iraqi Council Member Reportedly Stable,” Associated Press, September 20, 2003.

    [171] “Iraq Council Member Shot, Critically Wounded,” Associated Press, September 20, 2003.

    [172] Rory McCarthy, “US Appointee Dies From Bullet Wounds,” The Guardian, September 26, 2003.

    [173] Mohamad Bazzi, “Female Iraqi Poised to Take, Power, “ Newsday, January 24, 2005. See also Michael Georgy, “Iraqi Politician Tells Harrowing Ambush Tale,” Reuters, May 28, 2004.

    [174] Colin McMahon, “Iraqi Ministry Chief OK After Gunmen Attack Convoy,” Chicago Tribune, March 29, 2004, and Christopher Torchia, “Iraqi Minister Escapes Assassination,” Associated Press, March 28, 2004.

    [175] Human Rights Watch interview with Sadi Pire, Arbil, Iraq, January 29, 2005.

    [176] “Iraqi Kurdish Leader Survives Car Bomb,” Reuters, August 26, 2004.

    [177]The two primary sources are “Attacks Against Leading Iraqi Figures Since May 2003,” Agence France-Presse, January 4, 2005, and “Killings of Iraqi Officials Since Elected Government Was Announced April 28,” Associated Press, May 23, 2005.

    [178] Dexter Filkins, “Insurgents Vowing to Kill Iraqis Who Brave the Polls on Sunday,” New York Times, January 26, 2005.

    [179]Patrick Quinn, “Iraqi Judge on Saddam Case Killed,” Associated Press, March 1, 2005, and “Gunmen Kill Iraqi Judge and Son Working for Tribunal Trying Saddam,” Agence France-Presse, March 2, 2005.

    [180] Human Rights Watch interview with former al-Falluja municipal employee, location outside Iraq undisclosed, June 6, 2004.

    [181]The Iraqi Civil Defense Corps was set up by the Coalition Provisional Authority, and then incorporated into the Iraqi National Guard in June 2004.

    [182] IFES defined election-related violence as “violence that is aimed at hindering or disrupting any part of the electoral process.”

    [183] International Federation of Electoral Systems, “Iraq Election Violence, Education and Resolution Report on the January 30 Elections,” February 23, 2005.

    [184] On November 13, 2004, unknown gunmen shot and killed Iraqi Communist Party Politburo member and delegate in the interim National Assembly, Wadhah Hassan Abdul Amir, along with two colleagues, while driving from Baghdad to Kirkuk. (See, accessed January 5, 2005).

    [185] “Iraqi Communist Killed in Baghdad,” Agence France-Presse, January 5, 2005.

    [186] The victim in Salman Pak was Mahmoud Madaeni, who was shot to death with his son and four bodyguards. Khaled Yacoub Oweis, “Iraq Poll Fears Deepen as Sistani Aides Killed,” Reuters, January 13, 2005, and Anthony Shadid, “Sunni Group Says It Killed Shiite Cleric,” Washington Post, January 15, 2005.

    [187] Bassem Mroue, “Gunmen Kill Three Iraq Candidates,” Associated Press, January 18, 2005.

    [188] John F. Burns, “At Least 64 Dead as Rebels Strike in 3 Iraqi Cities,” New York Times, December 20, 2004, “Total of Eight Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission Members Killed,” Agence France-Presse, December 20, 2004.

    [189] “Iraqi Elections Officials Quit After Death Threats,” Sunday Telegraph, January 2, 2005.

    [190] “Iraq’s ‘Islamic Resistance Front’ Says Elections ‘US Conspiracy,’” BBC Monitoring Middle East, Statement by the Islamic Front of the Iraqi Resistance, carried by Quds Press web news agency, January 30, 2005, and Samir Haddad, “Iraqi Resistance Group Says Not to Target Elections,”, January 27, 2005.

    [191] Maggie Michael, “Two or Allawi’s Kidnapped Relatives Freed,” Associated Press, November 15, 2004, and “Iraq PM’s Two Female Relatives Released: Party Source,” Agence France-Presse, November 15, 2004.

    [192] Maamoun Youssef, “Zarqawi Group Claims Allawi Kidnappings,” Associated Press, November 22, 2004.

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