Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms kill Sunni parliamentary candidate

Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms broke into the home of a senior Sunni leader on Wednesday and killed him, his three sons and his son-in-law on the outskirts of Baghdad, his brother and an interior ministry official said. Khadim Sarhid al-Hemaiyem was the leader of the Sunni Batta tribe and the brother of a candidate in the Dec. 15 election, Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi said. One of the slain man's brothers said the family has been attacked before.

"A group of gunmen with Iraqi army uniforms and vehicles broke into my brother's house in the Hurriyah area and sprayed them with machine gun fire, killing him along with three sons and his son-in law," said his brother, Nima Sarhid Al-Hemaiyem. "His eldest son was assassinated one month ago in the Taji area, northern Baghdad, when unidentified men shot and killed him."

The Batta tribe is one of Iraq's largest Sunni tribes from the area north of Baghdad, where they are influential. Dozens of people went to al-Hemaiyem's home, where the bodies were laid out, wrapped in blankets before the funeral.

The slaying follows a big push by U.S. officials to encourage Sunni Muslim participation in the Dec. 15 election, which will install the first non-transitional government in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Some Sunni-led insurgent groups have declared a boycott of the election and have threatened politicians who choose to participate in it.

U.S. and Iraqi troops launched an operation in predominately-Sunni western Iraq on Tuesday to prevent insurgents from stopping the vote in that city, a U.S. military statement said.

The operation in Ramadi, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad, is the third in the city since Nov. 16. The operations have resulted in 32 enemy killed, and the seizure and destruction of surface-to-air missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds, artillery rounds, hand grenades, small arms and bomb making equipment, the statement said.

U.S. Marines also announced Tuesday the end of a major operation to secure towns along the Syrian border used by al-Qaida to smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq. Ten U.S. Marines and 139 insurgents were killed in "Operation Steel Curtain," which began Nov. 5 with about 2,500 U.S. troops and 1,000 Iraqi soldiers, a military statement said.

U.S. commanders plan to establish a long-term presence in the area to prevent al-Qaida and its Iraqi allies from re-establishing themselves in the towns of Husaybah, Karabilah and Obeidi along the Euphrates River.

In a positive development, a senior government official said a representative of an unidentified insurgent group responded to an offer by President Jalal Talabani to talk with those willing to lay down their arms, reports the AP. I.L.

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