Sunni struggle claims 4th Fallujah chief
BAGHDAD - The Fallujah city council chairman, a critic of al-Qaida who took the job after his three predecessors were assassinated, was killed on Saturday, the latest blow in a violent internal Sunni struggle for control of an insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad.
In the capital, U.S. and Iraqi officials defended plans to build a barrier around a Sunni enclave to protect its inhabitants from surrounding Shiite areas, while residents expressed concern it would isolate the community.
Sami Abdul-Amir al-Jumaili was gunned down by attackers in a passing car as he was walking outside his home in central Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, according to police.
His assassination came a month after he agreed to take the dangerous job — the only person willing to do so — with promises to improve services and work with the Americans to ease traffic-clogging checkpoints in the city with a population of an estimated 150,000 to 200,000.
The 65-year-old Sunni sheik was the fourth city council chairman to be killed in some 14 months as insurgents target fellow Sunnis willing to cooperate with the U.S. and its Iraqi partners. Abdul-Amir's predecessor, Abbas Ali Hussein, who was shot to death on Feb. 2.
Both men were strong critics of al-Qaida in Iraq, which is battling a growing number of Sunni tribes that have turned against it in the vast Anbar province — a center for anti-U.S. guerrillas since the uprising in Fallujah in 2004 that galvanized the insurgency.
U.S. officials say tribal leaders and even some other insurgents are increasingly repelled by the group's brutality and religious extremism. The tribes also are competing with al-Qaida for influence and control over diminishing territory in the face of U.S. assaults.
The U.S. military confirmed the killing, and provincial officials condemned it.
"He was one of the many good people of the province who worked to help the city of Fallujah rebuild and regain life," the provincial government said in a statement. "This murder was a crime against all of the citizens of Iraq. We again strongly condemn this cowardly back-stabbing act."