Reporting from Baghdad — A Sunni paramilitary leader, his wife and two of his sons were assassinated Thursday as attacks continued against members of the groups that helped U.S. troops defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq militants and bring an end to the country's sectarian war.
Gunmen opened fire before dawn on the house of Khudair Hamad Saad, a prominent member of the Sunni Arab Awakening movement, in an area outside Fallouja in the western province of Anbar, police said.
Saad had been a member of Al Qaeda in Iraq but broke away from the radical group three years ago and joined the Awakening movement in its fight against the insurgents, police said.
The Sunni paramilitary fighters often find themselves at the mercy of Shiite Muslim-led government forces, who frequently view them with suspicion, and of former insurgents. At least three Awakening leaders have been killed this month in west Baghdad and the adjacent Abu Ghraib area.
Relatives of the slain Awakening leader said they heard shooting and reached the house after 20 minutes. They discovered that the man's 7-year-old son, who had been seriously wounded, was the only survivor.
A cousin, Khamis Mohammed, said an assault rifle was beside the bodies.
"Lately he was guarding [the house] at night because he was worried about Al Qaeda attacks," he said of Saad.
Meanwhile, a statement in the name of Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for Sunday's assault on the Central Bank of Iraq that left more than 30 people dead. Despite the claim, there were questions about whether the attackers were using the name of Al Qaeda in Iraq as a cover.
The violence comes as the U.S. military proceeds with the scheduled withdrawal of the majority of its forces, due to be completed by the end of August. Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs who is visiting Baghdad, dismissed fear that the draw-down of U.S. forces to 50,000 troops this summer could leave a potentially destabilizing political vacuum as Iraqi officials try to form a new government.
U.S. troops withdrew from Iraqi cities a year ago, he noted.
"So since June of last year Iraqi security forces have been responsible for security in all the populated areas of Iraq. I don't see our fulfillment of President Obama's commitment to get down to 50,000 by Sept. 1 as having any intrinsic change on the ground," he said.
Redha is a Times staff writer. Times staff writer Liz Sly and a special correspondent in Anbar contributed to this report.