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Sunni leader, 7 others slain in attack north of Baghdad

By Sameer N. Yacoub
Associated Press / October 14, 2009

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BAGHDAD - A suicide bomber killed the leader of a US-backed Sunni paramilitary group and seven others north of Baghdad yesterday, the third attack in as many days in a heavily populated Sunni area, a police official said.

The bombing hit a market in the town of Buhriz, a former Saddam Hussein stronghold that was also the scene of an attack on Monday that killed the mayor. It raised concerns that escalating violence toward the Sunni minority could destabilize Iraq as it prepares for national elections early next year.

Violence dropped off dramatically in Iraq after local Sunni tribes, known as Awakening Councils, aligned themselves with US forces. That alliance against Al Qaeda was seen as a key turning point in the war.

The attack in Buhriz, 35 miles north of Baghdad, targeted the local leader of the Awakening Council, said police Major Ghalib al-Kharki, spokesman for police in Diyala province.

The bomber followed the leader, Leith Ahmed, into the market before detonating an explosives belt, Kharki said.

Ahmed was killed instantly, he said. Seven others were killed and seven were wounded.

On Monday, an attack killed the mayor of Buhriz and wounded his two sons.

The sons were also members of the Awakening Council, Kharki said.

On Sunday, a series of coordinated car bombings killed 19 people in the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, once a hotbed of the Sunni-led insurgency.

Meanwhile, lawmakers approved the return of a limited number of British troops to Iraq to help protect the country’s southern oil ports - an area where the country is lagging in its ability to provide security.

Iraq’s parliament approved the security agreement with Britain months after the military contingent was forced to pull out because a United Nations mandate allowing British troops to legally operate in the country expired.

Under the agreement in parliament yesterday, about 100 British troops would return for about a year to protect the oil sites and train Iraqi forces. Iraq’s president and two vice presidents still must sign off on the agreement.

The deal limits British military operations in Iraq strictly to naval operations at the southern port of Umm Qasr, said Jabir Khalifa Jabir from the parliament’s oil and gas committee.

Britain had about 40,000 troops in Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion, but withdrew almost all their forces earlier this year.

A contingent of about 100 to 150 troops who were training Iraq’s new navy remained, but those forces were moved to Kuwait when Iraq’s parliament went on summer break without agreeing to allow the British to stay.

Lawmakers loyal to anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr walked out in protest during the vote.

The group, with about 30 legislators in the 275-member parliament, once staged bloody rebellions against US-led troops, and has strongly objected to any remaining foreign troops.