Iraqi Sunni cleric`s convoy struck by bomb

Insurgents often target Sunni clerics seen as working closely with the Shi’ite-led government.

Baghdad: A bomb struck the convoy of a senior Sunni cleric in western Baghdad on Sunday morning, killing four and critically wounding the anti-extremist Muslim leader, police said.

The attack highlights the threats faced by relatively moderate Sunni clerics whom the Shi’ite-led government needs to rebuild the country and establish security, and follows a series of assaults in what is becoming an increasingly bloody month.

The blast in the capital`s Yarmouk neighbourhood left Sheik Mahdi al-Sumaidaie badly hurt, a Sunni religious official said.

The cleric had just finished leading prayers at a nearby mosque to mark the beginning of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which follows the holy month of Ramadan.

Al-Sumaidaie has sided with the government against Sunni extremists. Earlier this year, he called for a unified religious authority to bridge the gap between Iraq`s Sunnis and Shi’ites.

Insurgents often target Sunni clerics seen as working closely with the Shi’ite-led government.

Two police officers and a hospital official confirmed the attack. They said four of the cleric`s bodyguards were killed and three others were wounded.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release the information.

Al-Sumaidaie was one of the Sunni religious leaders who called on followers to fight US-led forces after the 2003 invasion. He established a conservative Salafi group based in one of the mosques on Baghdad`s Sunni-dominated western side.

After US troops left, his group was among those who abandoned their weapons and sided with the government against Sunni extremists. Since then, he has urged followers to support the government for the sake of security and to help rebuild the country.

Violence fuelled by sectarian differences has declined in Iraq since its height between 2005 and 2008, though deadly attacks continue to occur almost daily and have picked up in recent weeks. About 200 people have been killed since the start of August.

On Thursday, a relentless assault across the country killed at least 93 people and wounded many more. It was the second deadliest day in Iraq since US troops left in December. No group has claimed responsibility for that wave of killings, but it bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda`s Iraqi branch.

The local al Qaeda franchise, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, has vowed to make a comeback in areas it once held before the US and its local allies pushed it out.