baghdad -- A roadside bomb killed the governor of Muthanna province Monday, and armed men in a fleet of sport utility vehicles kidnapped a senior government official on a busy Baghdad street.
The attack on the governor, the second provincial leader to be slain in little more than a week, came amid continued fighting between Shiite Muslim groups competing for dominance in southern Iraq.
The powerful bomb that killed Mohammed Ali Hassani, his driver and a bodyguard struck only the Muthanna governor’s armored Land Cruiser in a long motorcade traveling toward the provincial capital of Samawah. That precision suggested that a remote-controlled device was used to target the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council politician.
Khalil Jalil Hamza, governor of neighboring Qadisiya province and a fellow supreme council member, was killed in a similar fashion Aug. 11, stirring suspicions that both bombings were carried out by militiamen loyal to radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr.
Sadr’s Al Mahdi militia and the supreme council’s armed Badr Organization have been battling for control of Iraq’s oil-rich southern provinces as local elections, set for 2008, approach.
The twin strikes against the governors testified to the struggle for power and riches plaguing Iraq and that struggle’s potential to nullify any security improvements achieved by U.S. and Iraqi forces trying to suppress rogue militias and insurgents.
Sunni Arab extremists were suspected in the afternoon kidnapping in Baghdad of Samir Salim Attar, the deputy minister for science and technology. He and five bodyguards were taken by armed men who used at least eight SUVs to intercept Attar’s heavily defended government convoy.
A week ago, five senior officials of the Oil Ministry were kidnapped by dozens of gunmen posing as security troops. Abductions by Sunni and Shiite adversaries often end in execution of the hostages rather than negotiations for their release.
Monday’s violence promised to engender more. Hassani’s son Ahmed blamed Sadr’s militia and vowed to take revenge, as did a leader from the slain governor’s Bu Hassan tribe.
“We will not stand by watching. We will take our revenge after the three-day mourning period,” said Abu Haider, the tribal leader.
The assassinations and kidnappings have coincided with a burst of attacks in Baghdad and central Iraq that have killed dozens of civilians in recent days. On Monday, five people died in a car bombing in the capital’s Sadr City neighborhood. A motorcycle bomb killed two Iraqis at central Baghdad’s Shorja Market.
A roadside bomb detonated when an Iraqi army patrol passed in Mafraq, near Samarra, killing four soldiers and provoking retaliatory gunfire that killed four civilians in a nearby gas station line. In Ad Dawr, a Sunni town near Samarra, four carloads of gunmen attacked the head of the tribal defense force, killing two of his guards.
In Samarra, Iraqi and U.S. forces raided the Drug and Medical Supply Factory. Shakir Mahmoud, general director of the state-owned pharmaceuticals plant that employs 6,000, accused the troops of “shooting randomly at the buildings that resulted in two guards being injured.”
The troops detained between 80 and 200 employees, who were being held overnight, said Mahmoud.
Asked what prompted the raid and what the detained workers were suspected of having done, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces, Sgt. Robin Roe, said the military was “not tracking” information about the incident.
Violence between the rival Shiite groups, as well as between Shiites and Sunni Arabs, has left tens of thousands dead and millions displaced since sectarian clashes erupted early last year.
Shiite leaders sought Monday to downplay suggestions that the attacks on the governors were evidence of intra-Shiite strife.
“We are sure that those committing such horrendous crimes and trying to destabilize the southern regions are remnants of the Saddam [Hussein] re- gime,” said Haitham Hoyseni, an aide to Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council leader Abdelaziz Hakim, who has been out of the spotlight during cancer treatment.
In Najaf, a spokesman for Sadr, Sheik Ahmed Shaibani, denied that the Al Mahdi militia had anything to do with the slaying.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who was in Damascus for a three-day meeting with Syrian leaders, hailed Hassani as a martyr but urged his supporters to refrain from retaliation.
“We call on our people in Muthanna province to exercise self-control and avoid falling into the trap of this painful experience,” Maliki told his fellow Shiites, who are the largest community in Iraq and overwhelmingly dominant in the southern provinces.
Maliki has been traveling to neighboring countries in an effort to shore up regional support for his beleaguered government, as well as to urge the leaders of border states to do more to prevent the influx of foreign fighters and weapons into Iraq.
Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to make the first visit to Iraq by a president of his country since the April 2003 fall of Hussein, it was announced in Tehran on Monday. No specific date was given. Maliki met with Ahmadinejad in Iran earlier this month in a session that raised eyebrows in Washington.
Muthanna was the first of Iraq’s 18 provinces to be handed over to local security forces, when British troops withdrew in July 2006 from the vast region stretching to the Saudi border.
Shiite-on-Shiite violence in neighboring Basra province has scuttled plans to put Iraqi security forces in charge of that oil-rich region.
The bloody power plays between Shiite factions also threaten to draw in Iran, which U.S. officials already accuse of arming and instigating Sadr’s gunmen to attack U.S. forces and minority Sunni Muslims.
Times staff writers Alexandra Zavis and Saif Rasheed contributed to this report.