BAQUBAH, IRAQ: Recent political progress in Diyala may unravel after a botched attempt to capture a provincial official at the main governmental center in Baqubah killed an assistant to the provincial governor.
An attempt to arrest a Sunni member of the provincial parliament, Husain al Zubsidy, by a special division of the Iraqi Army went foul early on Aug. 19, causing a 30-minute firefight between the Iraqi army and local police. A special assistant to the governor of Diyala was killed in the shootout. The assistant, al Tamimi, was also a close relative of the governor of Diyala, Ra’ad Rashid al Tamini, and the killing has threatened to unhinge gains made in recent weeks.
Some of the participants in the raid claimed they were part of a dirty division’ that operates at the Prime Minister’s behest. The identity of the unit could not be verified. Earlier today, the deputy president of the Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee called for the disbandment of Iraq’s counterterrorism and special operations forces units, citing abuses in Diyala province, Voices of Iraq reported.
Last week, Ra’ad survived a suicide bombing attack and helped dismiss his provincial chief of police, Major General Ghanim al Qureyshi, who then led protests against his dismissal. The provincial council last week voted 36-0 to dismiss Qureyshi after months of personal conflicts and complains that Iraqi police were detaining too many Sunni leaders.
The death of his assistant prompted a direct call from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office to the Governor, who is currently in a mourning period.
Members of the Diyala council condemned the police action and have suspended meetings until further notice.
Diyala is majority Sunni, but many Sunni voters choose to boycott provincial elections in 2005, leaving Shia and Kurds in control of the province government and police for the past three years. The indefinite postponement of regional elections has Sunnis in the region worried that the Shia power base will try and jail leaders or dissuading Sunni voters from participating in elections, when they are finally scheduled.
“The Shia community could have some big surprises before the election,” said Hussam Alwan Abed, a Sunni who heads one of the Sons of Iraq neighborhood watch organization in the city of Miqdadiyah, north of Baqubah.
The Sons of Iraq in the Diyala province are disproportionally Sunni and have been at loggerheads with the provincial and central government over their integration with Iraqi Police units, which in Diyala are largely Shia. The central government is pushing for an end to Sons of Iraq patrols around the country by Oct. 15, and there are fears that without the program, many underemployed Sunni men will return to what is called “economic terrorism,” where extremist groups pay for attacks on Coalition and Iraqi forces.
The inter-governmental violence comes as Iraqi security and Coalition forces hoped to begin a second phase of their security operation that began at the end of July, clearing rural areas of remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq and seizing numerous weapons caches. A week-long amnesty period is nearing its end and has garnered almost 1,000 insurgents requesting amnesty from the central government. Iraqi security forces have detained 757 insurgents and al Qaeda in Iraq operatives since the operation began.
Sunni sheiks in the province are debating whether to hold are large-scale protests across Diyala. Currently, more than 90 percent of the arrests made by Iraqi police in the region are Sunnis, according to the US Army.
US Apache helicopters hovered over the scene during the shootout after US troops stationed at the government complex were fired upon, said US Army Major Jon Pendell. US forces did not participate in the fighting.
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