Suicide bombers kill leader of Iraq's Sunni 'Awakening'

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 20, 2011 

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Suicide bombers on Tuesday killed a leader of Sahwa, the Sunni Muslim militias that were backed by U.S. forces in Iraq, as well as three other people in an attack on a local government compound in Ramadi, the capital of mostly Sunni Anbar province.

Eighteen people were wounded in the assault, which bore the hallmarks of al Qaida in Iraq. A concerted drive by the Iraqi police and military has greatly weakened the Sunni extremist movement over the past two years, but it still manages to stage a dramatic attack on civilian targets every few weeks.

Tuesday's assault began when insurgents detonated a car bomb 300 yards from the government complex. At the same time, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the compound, which houses the municipal council, the provincial governor and the police department. Police were able to kill a third bomber before he could self-detonate.

The dead included Khaled Shantoukh, a leader of the Sahwa, which means “Awakening,” a movement U.S. forces supported to counter Sunni extremists in Iraq.

Last week, insurgents wearing the uniform of the Iraqi security forces — and thought to be linked to al Qaida in Iraq — targeted a bus full of Shiite Muslim pilgrims in Anbar, killing 22.

The attacks again raise questions about the readiness and capability of Iraqi forces to control security less than four months from the final withdrawal of U.S. troops under a 2008 security agreement between the Iraqi and American administrations.

Iraqi police said 278 Iraqis died in August from bombings, snipers and targeted assassinations linked to the Sunni extremist movement, a rise of one-third over July. The increasing violence is likely to be taken as a further sign of gridlock in the Iraqi government, in particular the inability of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to name permanent ministers for the key security posts 18 months after the elections.

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