BAGHDAD, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Gunmen killed a member of Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab party on Wednesday, police said, the latest in a number of political assassinations following recent local polls that brought a major shift to Iraqi politics.
Samir Safwat, a lawyer who was an official at a local office of the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), was shot in his car in Baghdad’s Zaafariniya neighbourhood.
Police said Safwat’s wife was a candidate in the Jan. 31 provincial election for the IIP, the country’s largest Sunni Arab political force since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The IIP called the killing "an attempt to incite sectarian violence anew and silence the (party’s) national project." It said three party members had been killed in less than a month.
"The party wonders about the mysterious increase in criminal acts," the IIP said, asking the government to halt such crimes. The IIP, banned under Saddam Hussein’s largely secular rule, was one of the major religious parties which appears to have been punished in the provincial vote by Iraqis fed up with what they see as an ineffective political class.
The fact the election was held without major violence was widely hailed as a signal that Iraq may be ready to put behind it the sectarian and insurgent bloodshed of the last six years.
But at least three politicians have been killed since then and another six have been wounded, attacked, or kidnapped.
Most of the attacks have taken place in Mosul, a violent northern city that is still the most dangerous corner of Iraq and which is seen as a stronghold for Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.
Attacks have also taken place in the southern Shi’ite city of Basra. The victims have been from several parties.
The attacks raise questions about how incumbents whose power was eroded in the election will tread moving forward.
Final results of the ballot to pick councils in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces will be announced on Thursday, and the new provincial councils will choose powerful governors within weeks.
The vote was seen as a win for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who emphasised a law-and-order message and who many Iraqis credited for the sharp drop in violence in the past year.
The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the country’s biggest Shi’ite religious group, did poorly.
The IIP’s influence was eaten away in western Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold, where secularists and tribal leaders made gains. But the party came first in both the Sunni province of Salahuddin and ethnically mixed Diyala.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. (Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Missy Ryan)