WaPo : Aide to Iraq's Top Shiite Cleric Fatally Stabbed

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Aide to Iraq's Top Shiite Cleric Fatally Stabbed

Supporters of Sistani See Attack as a Warning, Consider Moving Leader Out of Najaf

By Megan Greenwell and Saad Sarhan | Washington Post Staff Writers | July 22, 2007

BAGHDAD, July 21 -- A top aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was stabbed to death in what Sistani's supporters believe was a warning to Iraq's senior Shiite cleric, authorities said Saturday.

Abdullah Falaq was killed Friday in his office, which is adjacent to Sistani's home in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, according to an aide to the cleric. Sistani is considered one of the most influential Shiite leaders in Iraq, and Falaq was his chief adviser on matters of Islamic law.

Police said they had taken four suspects into custody. An officer said he could not comment on whether the men were part of any insurgent group. In January, an attempt to assassinate Sistani was foiled during a battle between U.S. and Iraqi military forces and insurgents near Najaf.

A representative from Sistani's office expressed concern that an armed attacker had gained entrance to the heavily guarded compound and said he suspected that one of the cleric's bodyguards aided the killer. He said officials close to Sistani interpreted the attack as a threat to the ayatollah and are considering moving him out of Najaf.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said American troops fired missiles and dropped a bomb on a house from which suspected insurgents had been firing in northeast Baghdad. Six insurgents were killed, the military said. Iraqi police said at least 18 civilians were also killed, but the U.S. military reported no other casualties.

Scenes on Iraqi television stations showed several women and children who reporters said were wounded in the airstrike. Those reports could not be independently verified.

The military also reported that a U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Diyala province, east of Baghdad. The soldier was not identified.

Also Saturday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki publicly asked the Iraqi parliament to cancel its August recess or shorten it to two weeks. Legislators are scheduled to consider significant bills in coming days, several of which President Bush has said he hopes will be acted on by Sept. 15, the due date for a key report on the status of the war.

A statement from Maliki's office said he hoped "parliament would cancel its summer vacation or limit it to a fortnight to help the government solve pending issues."

Several lawmakers said that they appreciated Maliki's sentiment but that the August vacation would go on as planned. Last year, lawmakers took a two-month summer break. In June, they agreed to cut this year's summer break to one month.

"The parliament cannot accept this request because it is unconstitutional," said Khudair al-Khuzai, minister of education and a member of Maliki's Dawa party. The Iraqi constitution specifies a two-month recess for lawmakers between each of the year's two legislative sessions and says the prime minister can choose to extend each session, but for no more than one month.

Saleem Abdullah, a parliament member from the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group, echoed Khuzai's statement, adding that he interpreted Maliki's statement as an "informal request" because of the constitutional stipulation.

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, said he was upset that Maliki would make such a request.

"It seems that he has no knowledge about the Iraqi constitution," Othman said. "These 30 days cannot be shortened unless you change the constitution."

Sarhan reported from Najaf. Special correspondent Dalya Hassan in Baghdad contributed to this report.