BAGHDAD, Iraq – Two people were killed in the capital early Monday when a mortar round slammed into a central Baghdad neighborhood and a bomb hidden in trash exploded on the city’s east side, police reported. Elsewhere, two key members of radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s political and military organization were gunned down just days before the U.S. and Iraqi forces planned to open a massive security drive in Baghdad.
Ali Khazim, who ran al-Sadr’s political organization in volatile Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, was killed Sunday by U.S. forces at his home in Howaider village, 12 miles east of Baqouba, Saleh al-Ageili, a spokesman for the Sadr Movement’s parliamentary bloc, said on Monday. Provincial police confirmed al-Ageili’s account.
“What has happened to Khazim is part of the series of provocative acts by the occupation forces against the Sadr movement. The occupation forces know well who are the terrorists and their whereabouts, yet they are targeting our people,” al-Ageili told The Associated Press.
The U.S. military did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment.
The second official, Khalil al-Maliki, a key figure in al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in Basra, was killed by three gunmen in a drive-by shooting on Sunday in the southern city of Basra, police reported. He survived an assassination attempt in the city last year.
As many as seven key figures in the al-Sadr organization have been killed or captured in the past two months, at least three of them by U.S. forces, after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, also a Shiite, dropped his protection for the organization â€” a crucial backer in his rise to power.
The coming security drive, for which President Bush has dispatched 21,500 additional American forces, was seen as a last-chance effort to quell the sectarian violence ravaging the capital and surrounding regions.
In an early morning attack in Mosul, the deputy governor of Nineveh province was wounded along with three bodyguards when their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, said Hisham al-Hamdani, chief of the provincial security committee. Mosul is 225 miles north of Baghdad,
The central Baghdad mortar attack wounded six people in addition to the one fatality. In the bombing in eastern Baghdad, a bomb hidden in trash killed a passer-by and wounded three others. The bomb exploded 10 minutes after a roadside bomb missed its intended target, a police patrol, but wounded two civilians.
Also in Baghdad, gunmen wearing police uniforms and using police cars attacked an armored truck delivering cash, kidnapped five bank officials and made off with $350,000, police said.
The kidnapped bank employees were found handcuffed in the armored truck in eastern Baghdad, police said. The victims told police that 15 men wearing Ministry of Interior Police Commando uniforms and driving three government cars conducted the heist.