Iraqi Troops Raid Governor's Office In Sunni-Dominated Diyala Province

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BAGHDAD — Iraq's largest Sunni party accused government security forces of sectarian bias Tuesday after soldiers arrested a Sunni university president and a Sunni provincial council member northeast of Baghdad.

The raids in Diyala province follow an Iraqi crackdown there against U.S.-backed Sunni Arab volunteers who turned against al-Qaida and joined the fight against the terror movement.

The moves are likely to heighten Sunni suspicions about the Shiite-led national government at a time when the U.S. sees progress in tamping down the sectarian hatreds that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war two years ago.

Before dawn Tuesday, Iraqi troops backed by U.S. helicopters swooped down on the provincial government complex in Baqouba, Diyala's capital about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

The troops stormed the office of the provincial governor, Raad Rashid al-Tamimi, triggering a gunfight that killed his secretary and wounded four of his guards, police said.

The Sunni head of the provincial council's security committee, Hussein al-Zubaidi, was arrested, police said.

Later, troops raided the home of the president of Diyala University, Nazar al-Khafaji, handcuffed him, placed a hood over his head and led him away, his nephew Ismail Ibrahim Sabi said.

Troops also seized three computers and several books, said Sabi, who was in his uncle's house at the time and works as his driver.

Gov. al-Tamimi is a Shiite, but Sunni politicians believed both the raid on his office and the arrest of the university president were part of a crackdown against Sunni Arabs, the largest community in the province.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni faction, said in a statement that the raids were a sign "sectarianism remains the sole motive of the security forces," which are mostly Shiite.

The statement denounced "these irresponsible acts" and said the party would not remain silent in the face of "human rights violations and the breach of freedom that are taking in this province."

The 41-member provincial council demanded an investigation and said it was suspending its activities in the meantime. Council chief Ibrahim Bajilan said the raids were a "barbaric act" by troops "who did not respect the law."

However, a senior Iraqi army officer who took part in the raid said troops carried arrest warrants for both the university president and the head of the security committee.

Al-Kafaji, the university president, was believed behind the assassination of professors, and al-Zubaidi also was suspected of a role in killings, the officer said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

He provided no evidence but said both would appear before a judge and that witnesses were prepared to testify against them.

Sunni trust in the government is tenuous, especially in Diyala. Last week the provincial council voted unanimously to fire the Diyala police chief, Maj. Gen. Ghanim Qureyshi, for alleged abuse of power against Sunnis.

The commander of U.S.-backed Sunni fighters in Diyala, Mullah Shihab al-Safi, said Iraqi troops have arrested many senior leaders of his group.

Establishing security in Diyala, an agricultural province of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, is critical to maintaining control of Baghdad. The province extends from the Iranian border to the outskirts of the capital, and extremist groups have used Diyala as a springboard for car bombings and kidnappings in Baghdad.

Diyala has been among the most difficult of Iraq's 18 provinces to pacify. An al-Qaida front organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, proclaimed Baqouba its capital until U.S. troops regained control there last year. The founder of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in Diyala by an American airstrike in 2006.

Suicide bombers struck twice in Baqouba last week, killing three people. One attack narrowly missed the governor's convoy.

Also Tuesday, a U.S. soldier was killed in a rocket attack in Amarah, a southern Shiite city where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been trying to suppress Shiite militias.

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Associated Press Writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.