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Sarfraz Naeemi & Hareth al-Obaidi

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Knowing one of al-Qaeda's modus operandis is to conduct multiple operations simultaniously, the assassinations of Sarfraz Naeemi and Hareth al-Obaidi on Friday, June 12, should have sent off alarm bells.

Just as the assassination of the leader of the anti-Taliban Norther Alliance in Afghanistan on September 10, 2001 should have put security forces on alert, but didn't, the duel assassinations of an anti-Taliban cleric in Pakistan and anti-al-Qaeda cleric in Iraq will most certainly foreshadow something else.

What that something else is I don't know.

But as David A. Phillips would have said, "Grandmother's on the Roof."


Two assassinations have shattered hopes that peace is at hand in Iraq and in Pakistan.

In Baghdad, lawmaker and cleric Harith al-Obaidi, who headed the largest Sunni bloc in Parliament, was assassinated at a mosque on Friday, the day after denouncing abuse in Iraqi prisons. His killer then gunned down an aide and three bodyguards and fled before killing himself by leaping on his own grenade.

Sunnis believe they are being harassed by the majority Shiites, and are fearful that they will suffer great violence when the U.S. leaves. The U.S. has been trying to mediate, but Friday's assassination will increase tension, perhaps beyond the breaking point.

In Lehore, Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed one of the country's most prominent anti-Taliban clerics, Sarfraz Naeemi. He had been speaking out, calling suicide attacks un-Islamic and the Taliban murderers. He had organized demonstrations against the Taliban and helped form an alliance of religious organizations opposed to the Taliban's harsh interpretation of Islam.

The government believes that it is winning the war against the Taliban. Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani said, "They cannot stand up to the army." Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, "Militants are on the run."

The Taliban group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the blast. Maulvi Omar told Agence France-Presse, "Anyone who will oppose us to please the Americans will face the same fate."

Pakistan has been rocked by a wave of bombings as militants strike back over military operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley region. More than 100 people have been killed since May 27, and places of worship have been targeted three times since last Friday.

After the blast that killed Naeemi, hundreds of outraged seminary students gathered at the scene and demanded that the Taliban leave Pakistan. "Down with the Taliban!" they shouted.

Police official Sohail Sukhera said at least one assailant entered the offices of the Jamia Naeemia seminary in the heart of Lahore shortly after the end of traditional Friday prayers and detonated a bomb powerful enough to collapse the building. Five people died and three were wounded.

Naeemi died en route to a hospital, said his son, Waqar. "I was still in the mosque when I heard a big bang. We rushed toward the office and there was a smell of explosives in the air. There was blood and several people were crying in pain," Waqar said.

Naeemi recently had led dozens of moderate clerics in meetings and lectures in which he denounced suicide attacks and supported the military's operation to oust the Taliban from Swat. He advocated equal access to education for women and the use of computers in schools — ideas sharply at odds with the Taliban's interpretation of Islam.

In Iraq, Obaidi had devoted part of his sermon to prison abuse, a controversial issue because most Iraqi prisoners have connections with sectarian militias. Many are often held for long periods without trial if the government sees them as political opponents, particularly in the case of Sunnis.

A witness to the attack, a shopkeeper named Abou Teeba, said the gunman approached Obaidi at point blank range, as he was surrounded by his guards. "I heard him say, 'I was sent by — ' and he said a name I couldn't hear, and then he fired," Teeba said.

Iraqi security officials at the scene said the gunman shot Obaidi in the head, chest and leg before killing Bassim Fadhil, Obaidi's secretary, and the three bodyguards.

Then he ran out, pursued by Kurdish militiamen, mosque guards from the Islamic Party of Iraq and Iraqi Army soldiers, according to another witness, one of the Islamic Party guards who gave only his first name, Ahmed. They fired at him but missed, Ahmed said. Cornered by his pursuers a few streets away, the killer pulled the pin on a grenade and fell on it as it exploded, the security officials said.

An official at Yarmouk Hospital, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the killer appeared to be about 27 years old and died from the grenade explosion. He was carrying fake identification that gave his age as 19, according to an army investigator at the scene.

Friday's service was attended by a number of Sunni political officials, many of whom brought their own guards, a normal practice in Iraq.

"We are surprised," said Salim Jubori, a member of Tawafiq. "There are a lot of checkpoints around the mosque. How can they smuggle in a weapon?" An investigator at the scene said the killer posed as a beggar sitting outside the mosque.

Obaidi, who was deputy chairman of the human rights committee in Parliament, actively campaigned against what he saw as abuse in Iraqi prisons.

His parliamentary colleagues said the prisoner abuse issue provoked angry debate in Parliament on Thursday.

"It was very loud, people were yelling all over the place," said Ahmed Masuudi, a member of Parliament from the Sadrist Trend political grouping, which supports Obaidi's campaign. "The human rights committee, and Obaidi especially, asked for the dismissal of some Iraqi generals and big commanders."

Musuudi said he believed that Obaidi's assassination was in retaliation for his campaign. "The attack was not a coincidence, it was planned. This was an organized attack carried out by specialists who were professional people."

"He was probably the No. 1 person in defending human rights," said Alaa Maki, a senior member of Tawafiq, the Sunni bloc that Obaidi headed. "And he was the No. 1 person visiting and touring the Iraqi jails."

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