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Gunmen Kill Iraqi Chief Of Anti-Hussein Committee

The head of Iraq's effort to purge Saddam Hussein loyalists from the government was assassinated Thursday night. Ali al-Lami had led the Justice and Accountability Commission since 2004.

Iraq's al-Sumaria TV network reports that "unknown gunmen driving a Hyundai opened fire using muted weapons" and killed al-Lami in eastern Baghdad around 9 p.m. Thursday. He was accompanied only by his driver; al-Lami evidently had a long practice of not using bodyguards.

At al-Lami's funeral Friday, mourners blamed remnants of Hussein's Baath party for the killing, according to reports. But there have been no claims of responsibility for the attack as of yet.

Al-Lami was a divisive figure in Iraq, where his committee sought to bar hundreds of political candidates from seeking office in last year's parliamentary elections. Because many of those candidates were Sunni, al-Lami came under accusations that he was trying to tighten Shiites' hold on the government.

And in 2008, U.S. forces arrested al-Lami, saying he was implicated in a bombing attack that killed American personnel. As the AP reports:

"The top American military commander in Iraq at the time, Gen. Ray Odierno, said al-Lami and Ahmed Chalabi, also a committee member, were influenced by Iran and had attended meetings of the Shiite regime there."

On the al-Sumaria site's story about al-Lami's death, a commenter claiming to be the late official's son wrote that the arrest had been an attempt to force his father to implicate Chalabi. Al-Lami, who was detained for more than a year, maintained his innocence and was eventually released. The case was never fully resolved.

The al-Sumaria story ends with an enigmatic paragraph that suggests that al-Lami was suspicious that the U.S. government wanted him dead:

In a statement to Alsumarianews, Ali Allami accused the US Embassy in Baghdad of plotting to assassinate him and then blame it on Al Qaeda.

It's not clear when that "statement" was provided, or what may have prompted it.

By all accounts, al-Lami's controversial career angered many, from Hussein loyalists to U.S. officials and rival Shiites. The AP spoke to one of al-Lami's colleagues:

"The first suspect are the Baath Party members who are angry at his campaign against them," said Ali Mahmoud, a member of the Accountability and Justice Committees.

Police say their investigation of the killing is under way. And the attack is also part of a larger pattern of assassinations in Iraq.

For NPR, Isra al-Rubeii reports that "Although violence in Iraq has gone down from a peak in 2006 and 2007, the death of al-Lami is only part of an unabated wave of targeted killings against government and political figures."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.