An al-Qaida-linked group in Iraq claimed responsibility Friday for the killing of a prominent Shiite official who was tasked with purging loyalists of deposed ruler Saddam Hussein and who was once implicated in a bombing that killed Americans.
The Islamic State of Iraq said in a statement posted on its website that it killed Ali al-Lami, who was shot to death on May 26 in Baghdad.
He headed a committee tasked with rooting out members of Saddam's Baath Party and keeping them from certain government jobs.
Last year, the committee barred hundreds of candidates from running in elections. Most were from the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc. The ban outraged Sunnis, who viewed it as an attempt to keep their candidates from gaining power.
Al-Lami was arrested by U.S. and Iraqi forces in 2008 for suspected ties to Iranian-backed Shiite militias. At the time, U.S. officials accused him of being involved in a bombing that killed eight people, including two American soldiers and two State Department employees. He denied the charges. The U.S. later handed him over to Iraqi custody and he was released without trial.
His arrest reinforced suspicions about the influence of Shiite power Iran within the Shiite-led governments that have held power in Iraq since Saddam's ouster.
The group said it targeted al-Lami because of his ties to Iran and his campaigns against Sunnis, describing him as an "apostate."
Sunni extremists like al-Qaida in Iraq do not consider Shiites to be true Muslims and have often targeted them in the sectarian violence that has plagued the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Also Friday, hundreds of Iraqis rallied in Baghdad's Tahrir Square in dueling pro- and anti-government demonstrations.
Supporters of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki descended on the square for a rally that appeared to be an attempt to overshadow the small group of anti-government protesters who demonstrate weekly in the capital.
The anti-government group criticized al-Maliki for failing to improve government services after his self-imposed time limit for doing so expired June 7.
Meanwhile, two separate attacks in Baghdad killed three people, including two army officers, police and health officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.