BAGHDAD – A powerful roadside bomb on Saturday killed the governor and police chief of a southern province that has seen fierce internal fighting between Shiite factions, officials said.
The bomb struck a convoy carrying Khalil Jalil Hamza, governor of Diwaniyah province, and the provincial police chief as they returned from a funeral for a tribal sheik, army Brig. Gen. Othman al-Farood said.
Hamza and the police chief, Maj. Gen. Khalid Hassan, were killed, along with their driver and a bodyguard in the same SUV, according to al-Farood, commander of the Iraqi army division in charge of the area.
The attack occurred in the town of Aajaf, as the convoy was headed back to the provincial capital of Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad. Hassan had only been on the job for a week, officials said.
Diwaniyah has been the site of heavy clashes between U.S.-Iraqi security forces and Shiite militia fighters. The area also has seen a rise in internal rivalries between rival militia forces. Authorities imposed an indefinite curfew on the city.
The governor was a member of the influential Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a group led by Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. His loyalists dominate the police and have fought the Shiite Mahdi Army for control of the oil-rich south.
In Baghdad, militants bombed the house of a prominent anti-al-Qaida Sunni cleric, seriously wounding him and killing three of his relatives in what appeared to be an increased campaign against Sunnis who turn against the terror network.
That attack, which was followed by a fierce firefight, came after Sheik Wathiq al-Obeidi called on residents in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Azamiyah to rise up against foreign fighters, a reference to al-Qaida in Iraq, which recently has seen a surge in opposition from fellow Sunnis.
A Sunni insurgent umbrella group threatened the cleric on Tuesday, calling him a traitor and accusing him of working with the Anbar Salvation Council, an alliance of Sunni tribal leaders fighting al-Qaida in Iraq in the province of the same name west of Baghdad.
"The so-called Wathiq and his followers ... are a legitimate target for mujahedeen (holy warriors)," the statement said.
Followers denied the cleric, a former preacher at the Abu Hanifa mosque, was linked to the U.S.-backed Anbar group, but he issued his own call against al-Qaida in Iraq last week during a funeral prayer for two nephews killed by militants believed to be linked to the group.
"We have to fight foreign fighters in our city," witnesses quoted him as saying. "We have to fight those linked to al-Qaida in Azamiyah."
The explosion struck al-Obeidi's house before dawn and was followed by gunfire that resounded across the predominantly Sunni neighborhood.
The cleric, a former preacher at the Abu Hanifa mosque, was seriously wounded and his brother and two female relatives were killed, according to the head of the neighborhood council, Dawood al-Azami.
Azamiyah is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baghdad and has been surrounded by a security barrier as the U.S. and Iraqi militaries try to assert control over the area.
The Sunni chief of a tribe west of Karmah, in Anbar, also was killed by suspected al-Qaida in Iraq gunmen who opened fire on him in his home while his wife and children watched, police said. Sheik Fawaz Saddaa al-Khalifawi was targeted because he recently joined the alliance against al-Qaida in Iraq, police said.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, facing criticism at home with calls for his resignation, arrived in Baghdad for his third trip to Iraq to meet with Justice Department officials helping fashion Iraq's legal system.
Gonzales got an update from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and also planned to meet with Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and other U.S. and Iraqi officials, the Justice Department said.
Gonzales was an architect of U.S. policy on the treatment of prisoners abroad and author of a 2002 memo saying the president had the right to waive laws and treaties that protect war prisoners. President Bush has defended the attorney general.
On the political front, Shiites and Sunnis had mixed reactions to the international community's decision on Friday to expand the U.N. role in Iraq and open the door for the world body to promote talks to ease Iraq's sectarian bloodshed.
"The U.N. is a neutral party that can play a good role in Iraq. They have played good role previously and now, we need them to reactivate that role and expand it, so we welcome this renewed chance for them here in Iraq," said Salim Abdullah, a spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni political bloc in parliament.
"Finding a third party, however, does not lift the responsibility from the shoulders of the American administration," he added.
Independent Shiite politician Qassim Dawoud, however, worried the move was a precursor to a withdrawal of much-needed U.S. support for the country.
"When the Americans move the ball toward the U.N. court, it means the beginning of abandoning these commitments," he said.
Separately, the U.S. military on Saturday reported the death of a Task Force Lightning soldier in a non-combat incident.
In all, at least 14 people were killed or found dead nationwide, including a police officer and a woman who were struck by separate roadside bombs in northern Iraq. Officials who reported the violence spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.