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Sunni party ends contacts with U.S. over raid in Anbar

As a provincial vote nears, the group alleges a political motive in the action that it says killed a local leader.

October 26, 2008|The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Iraq's largest Sunni Arab party said Saturday that it has suspended official contacts with American military personnel and civilians after the killing of a man near Fallouja.

The Iraqi Islamic Party alleged there was a "hidden political motive" behind the raid, an indication of rising tensions in Anbar province ahead of provincial elections, due to be held by the end of January.

The U.S. military said U.S.-backed Iraqi soldiers arrested an insurgent leader suspected of training roadside bomb cells in an operation Friday in which an armed man who opened fire on the troops was killed.

The Iraqi Islamic Party alleged that a senior member of the party was killed in his bed and five others were arrested during the raid in the Halabsa area on the outskirts of the former insurgent stronghold. It accused the troops of targeting party members because of its success in forging tribal alliances with other political blocs.

"The hidden political motive behind this incident is clear," the party said in a statement posted on its website.

The statement said the party "has decided to suspend all official contacts with the Americans, both military and civilians, until the party receives a reasonable explanation about what happened, along with an official apology."

It also demanded assurance that those responsible would be punished, the victims would be compensated and the five detainees released.

The Iraqi Islamic Party has been locked in a bitter rivalry with Sunni tribal leaders who joined forces with the United States against Al Qaeda in Iraq in so-called Awakening Councils that started in Anbar and spread to other Sunni areas.

That has raised concerns that the political tensions could lead to new violence by disrupting the alliance, which is considered a key factor in recent security gains.

U.S. forces handed over security responsibility for the province on Sept. 1 but they retain a presence in Anbar, which stretches west from Baghdad to the borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Also Saturday, about 300 Shiites rallied in the southern city of Basra against a U.S.-Iraqi security pact currently under negotiation.

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