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Sunni leader in Iraq sentenced to death

By New York Times
November 20, 2009

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BAGHDAD - A leader of a Sunni Awakening Council was sentenced to death for kidnapping and murder yesterday, setting off charges that the Shi’ite-dominated Iraqi government was trying to weaken the Sunni movement, which is credited with much of the reduction in sectarian violence since 2006.

The Sunni leader, Adil al-Mashhadani, who led the Awakening militia in the impoverished Fadhil neighborhood of Baghdad, was arrested in March on charges of terrorism. A spokesman for the Justice Ministry, Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, provided no further details.

The Awakening Councils, also known as the Sons of Iraq, are local groups, including former insurgents and Ba’athists, who turned against the insurgency and received pay, first from the Americans and now from the Iraqis. Under their agreement with the government, they have tacit amnesty for past acts of sectarian violence but not for crimes like murder.

Other Awakening leaders had mixed reactions to Mashhadani’s sentencing. “Nobody is above the law,’’ said Nabil Ahmed, an Awakening leader in the Adhamiya neighborhood.

Ahmed Qais, also of Adhamiya, said that Mashhadani had “saved his neighborhood from the killing, displacement, and sectarianism’’ and that the government had falsely imprisoned other Awakening members.

Mashhadani has long been a controversial figure, described by some in Fadhil as a protector, others as a brutal extortionist who buried victims alive.

Other residents said that since Mashhadani’s arrest, insurgent groups had returned to the neighborhood.