Mourners in Baghdad laid to rest the leader of the largest Sunni Arab political bloc Saturday. Harith al-Obeidi was gunned down Friday at a west Baghdad mosque. He had just delivered a sermon demanding that the Iraqi government respect human rights.
Obeidi was a professor of Islamic jurisprudence before he became a member of parliament. Colleagues said his gentle and friendly manner helped bring together disparate political factions and got him selected as the head of Tawafoq, the largest Sunni voting block.
But he was not soft-spoken about the rights of detainees in Iraq's prison system, the subject of his sermon Friday.
"You should put your god in front of you to decide the fate of the thousands of innocent prisoners in the jails," Obeidi said. Only moments later, as Obeidi left the podium surrounded by guards, a young man drew near and shot him in the back of the head.
Details are confusing about what happened next, but four others died as the killer tried to escape. He was shot by guards and died while detonating a hand grenade.
Associates of Obeidi said the killing must have been well organized to get through high security around the mosque and the neighborhood. Colleagues in parliament said the killing aimed to stifle dissent. Shatha al-Obosi worked with Obeidi on the parliament's human rights committee.
"I memorized what he say every time. He say we must solve the problem of the detainees, we must solve the problem with the mass graves, because the people don't know their sons, if they're still alive or not," Obosi said.
Obeidi quickly became one of the most important advocates for human rights in the government. His selection as leader of the Sunni block suggested a new willingness to move toward reconciliation after ethnic and sectarian bloodshed. Iraq needed him badly, Obosi said.
"Nobody can replace him, nobody. And everybody like him — Shia, Sunni, Kurds, everybody like him. Because very, very few people have a character like him," she said.
Mourners chanted as they laid Obeidi to rest, and condolences arrived from the Iraqi president and prime minister, as well as American officials.
Obeidi was 47 years old and was the father of eight children.