BAGHDAD, March 13 (Xinhua) — A senior officer from a force tasked with protecting Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was shot dead on Tuesday in Iraq’s central province of Salahudin, a provincial security source said.
Brig. Gen. Sharif Ismail, commander of a Baghdad-based special brigade protecting Abadi, was killed when militiamen of Saraya al-Salam, or Peace Companies militia, opened fire on their convoy at a checkpoint manned by the militiamen in north of the city of Samarra, the source from Samarra Operations Command told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
One of Ismail’s two bodyguards also died, the source added. Saraya al-Salam is a militia group loyal to firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
The incident reportedly came shortly after a quarrel between Ismail’s bodyguards and another group of Saraya al-Salam militiamen at a previous checkpoint in Samarra, some 120 km north of the capital Baghdad, the source said.
The senior officer was heading to Iraq’s northern province of Nineveh for security measures there, hours before a planned visit of Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi forces, to the province.
Sadr’s militia is a reformation of the previous militia Mahdi Army, which he led during the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the subsequent sectarian strife after 2003.
On June 10, 2014, the group launched a blitzkrieg and seized large swathes of territories in predominantly Sunni provinces in northern and western Iraq, and later announced the formation of “Peace Companies” to protect Shiite shrines from Islamic State militants.