Iraqi police arrested a top Al-Qaeda operative on Wednesday over the killing of a senior Sunni Muslim MP and human rights advocate who was shot dead in a Baghdad mosque last week.
The arrest came after intelligence efforts led police to a house in the western Baghdad neighbourhood of Ghazaliyah, not far from Al-Yarmuk where Harith al-Obaidi was assassinated on Friday.
“We received information from one of our sources in Ghazaliyah that the group involved in the assassination were in one house,” Brigadier General Noaman Dakhil Jawad, the commander of the police’s rapid intervention forces in Baghdad, told AFP.
“We prepared our forces, we raided the house, and we arrested the criminal Ahmed Abed Oweiyed.”
Jawad said Oweiyed was the deputy commander of Al-Qaeda’s military wing in Iraq.
“Through intelligence efforts, we tracked down the criminal who masterminded the killing,” he said.
A teenage gunman shot dead Obaidi and his bodyguard in Al-Shawaf mosque in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Al-Yarmuk after Obaidi led worship on the weekly Muslim day of prayer.
The gunman then killed three others and wounded 12 by throwing a grenade into a crowd, before killing himself.
Obaidi, born in 1966, was deputy chairman of parliament’s human rights committee and head of the biggest Sunni bloc in parliament, the National Concord Front.
The day before he was killed, he called for an independent inquiry into torture and abuse of detainees in Iraq’s prisons.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki led mourners at Obaidi’s funeral on Saturday, while Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi, a Shiite Muslim like Maliki, described the murder as a “brutal crime.”
Iraq has seen several political assassinations since the US-led invasion of March 2003.
In February, Islamic Party official Samir Safwat was killed outside his Baghdad home by gunmen in a car. A month earlier, two candidates standing in provincial elections held on January 31 were killed in Baghdad and Mosul.
Wednesday’s arrest comes less than two weeks ahead of a deadline by which US troops must withdraw from Iraq’s urban centres, as part of a landmark security accord between Washington and Baghdad under which all US troops will leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
Maliki has warned that insurgents and militias would likely step up their attacks in the coming weeks in a bid to undermine confidence in Iraq’s own security forces.
Violence has dropped markedly in Iraq in recent months, with May seeing the lowest Iraqi death toll since the 2003 invasion. But attacks remain common, particularly in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq was also blamed for a car bombing last week in a market in Batha, in the largely peaceful Dhi Qar province, that killed 19 people and wounded 56, the bloodiest attack in Iraq since May 20.