BAGHDAD — Assailants burst into the home of an Iraqi campaign volunteer before dawn Monday, fatally shooting the man before they stabbed his pregnant wife and their five daughters to death, relatives and authorities said. A sixth child, the only son, was found hanging from a ceiling fan with key arteries severed, a cousin said.
Over the last week and despite warnings that it was too dangerous, 47-year-old Hussein Majeed Marioush had been hanging campaign posters in the volatile mixed-sect district of Zafaraniya, a semi-rural area on the outskirts of southern Baghdad. He was a volunteer for Entifadh Qanbar, a secular candidate and longtime associate of the controversial politician Ahmad Chalabi. Both are running on the main Shiite Muslim ticket in parliamentary elections March 7.
By late Monday, no clear motive had emerged in the killings. Iraqi authorities offered scenarios including a robbery, a financial dispute and sectarian violence. Qanbar and Marioush's family, however, think that the slayings were retaliation for his campaign work with the Iraqi National Congress, Chalabi's political party. The party has led the push to remove former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from state jobs and to disqualify them from running in elections.
"This is a completely political message," Qanbar said. "There's no family feud, no robbery, no case of someone hating someone so much that they kill a whole family with six children. This is political."
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Qanbar provided McClatchy with cell-phone images taken from inside the house. One shows Marioush, the father, with a blood-soaked head. Another is a close-up shot of Widad Ibrahim Ali, the mother, with her throat slit so severely that she's nearly decapitated. Three of the five slain girls lie in blood-spattered clothing.
Ahmed, the 6-year-old son, whose hands appear to have been tied behind his back in the photo, was found hanging from the ceiling fan.
Local news channels initially reported the deaths as beheadings, while other news agencies reported "some" beheadings among the dead. Security officials from various agencies gave statements that differed slightly from the family's version as to the manner of and possible motive for the killings, but no one disputed that a particularly savage attack had claimed an entire family. Four suspects were in custody late Monday, police said.
"This is a very clear message," said Abdullah Hassan Karim, a cousin of Marioush's who'd recruited him for the campaign. "The whole crime is related to his work. The enemies of the past and those who want to destroy Iraq are many."
Qanbar said Marioush had signed up to distribute posters for his campaign after an introduction through Karim, who'd attended high school with Qanbar. At a campaign meeting last week, Qanbar said, Marioush had seemed determined to hang posters in his neighborhood of Wahda even though others tried to dissuade him. Marioush and his family were Shiites and parts of his district are known for Sunni Muslim insurgent activity, including sectarian attacks on Shiites.
"He said, 'No, there's a Shiite area that's safe and a Sunni area that's bad, and I'll only hang them on the Shiite side.' He told us he could do it without anyone knowing," Qanbar said. "He took posters and other campaign stuff, and I got a call the next day that he was doing a great job."
Karim said his cousin worked as a taxi driver and described him as a "peaceful" family man who'd gotten involved in politics only recently and had received no previous threats. He said a mass burial was scheduled for Tuesday.
"We will raise banners demanding that the government find and execute the killers in the same place where they committed this crime," Karim said.
(McClatchy special correspondent Laith Hammoudi and Jane Arraf of The Christian Science Monitor contributed to this article from Baghdad.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow Middle East news at McClatchy's Middle East Diary
Read what Iraqis have to say at Inside Iraq