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Death of a civil servant

The warnings came from his mother, sister, four brothers and friends _ and from people who called late at night and threatened harm.

Stop working with the Americans.

Faris Abdul Razzaq Assam, one of Baghdad's three deputy mayors, heard the messages but listened to his heart, family members said. He continued to work on water projects and set up neighborhood councils. He supervised thousands of employees as the head of city technical services.

When Assam returned Sunday from an international donors' conference in Madrid, he excitedly told his family that he had secured billions of dollars in pledges. "I'm going to turn Baghdad into heaven," he said.

Hours later, witnesses said, two gunmen walked into an outdoor cafe where Assam was playing dominoes and shot him in the head at point-blank range. The assailants slipped into the night and remain at large.

Assam's unsolved slaying is the latest in a string of assassinations of Iraqis who work with U.S. forces. Last month, a member of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council was gunned down as she left her home; earlier, a member of a Baghdad neighborhood council was killed by a car bomb.

Police in Mosul, about 220 miles north of Baghdad, said Ahmed Shawkat, a newspaper editor, was shot and killed Tuesday on the roof of his paper's building. His daughter, Roaa Shawkat, told the Associated Press that some people disagreed with her father's writings because they were about democracy, "and our people don't understand the meaning of democracy."

Assam's family, speaking on the second day of a three-day mourning period, said they did not learn until after his killing that he had received death threats. As friends and relatives gathered under large, colorful tents to pay their respects, the family members said they assumed the Americans would protect him but did not know if Assam had told them he might be in danger.

They reserved the brunt of their anger and blame for the killers, who they said they believe are steadfast followers of the ousted president, Saddam Hussein.

"Iraq doesn't deserve people like him," a distraught Mayada Assam, 33, dressed in traditional black mourning clothes, said of her brother. "That's why he's gone. They deserve Saddam only."

Assam, 44, was appointed a deputy mayor four months ago by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-led agency responsible for the reconstruction of Iraq. Assam had been a director general for water and sewage in the previous Baghdad government, run by Hussein's Baath Party, but colleagues say he rejected politics in favor of a job well done. "He was well-liked by all the people who dealt with him, and he was competent," said Nada Abdul Mehdi, 37, a municipal engineer. Despite Assam's position under the old government, the Americans decided, after a careful vetting, that he was one to keep.

In his trademark warmup suits and slippers, Assam roamed the city to meet with emerging political leaders, according to friends and co-workers. He helped create the neighborhood representative bodies known as city advisory councils and worked with their members. All the while, Assam, who held a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Baghdad University, earned the trust of the civilians working for the occupation authority.

U.S. officials said Tuesday that they mourned the loss of Assam _ "a visionary," one called him _ who was the father of a teenage son and a 9-year-old daughter. "Faris was absolutely committed to the welfare of Baghdad and the future of the city," said Hank Bassford, regional coordinator for the occupation authority.

Bassford also had a message for the killers: "Those who committed this cowardly act should know that we will not be deterred from completing our mission."

Hours after sunset, hand-painted black mourning banners hung along the streets near the home of Assam's mother, Afita Mizar, 72. At the end of her block, several large rocks in the road signaled that it was closed, but two men with AK-47 assault rifles stood at the makeshift barrier to screen cars coming through. In death, Assam had protection.

Men sipped sweet tea under the two large mourning tents. Inside the house, more than two dozen women sat cross-legged on floor cushions and hit their chests, ululating in Assam's memory. Moments later, Assam's mother was composed and wanted to talk about her son.

In Hussein's time, when Baathists tried to intimidate Assam, he resisted, his mother said. After Hussein's government fell, Assam remained undaunted.

"I'm just an engineer serving my country, so why would anyone want to kill me?" she recalled him saying.

Then Akila Hashimi, a friend of Assam's and a member of the Governing Council, was fatally shot on Sept. 20 outside her home. Assam assured his family that Hashimi was a political target but that he was a civil servant.

Assam returned from the Madrid conference around 11 a.m. on Sunday, the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. He called his relatives and visited with his mother, talking to all of them about how officials from around the world had met to pledge funds for Iraq. Later, he broke the Ramadan daytime fast with his brother, Husam, 38.

Around 7 p.m., wearing a maroon track suit and slippers, he drove to the Al Mulimin Cafe, a few blocks from his mother's house, for some company. When he went inside, he left in his car the handgun that occupation authorities had issued him.

Sipping unsweetened tea and smoking a water pipe stuffed with his favorite tobacco, Two Apples, Assam began a game of dominoes with six other players, said Saad Nasir Waaili, the cafe's owner, who stood next to Assam and watched the game. The cafe was packed.

Two men _ one dressed in black with a beard, the other wearing a white tunic called a dishdasha _ came in around 8 p.m. One put a small handgun to Assam's left temple. He pulled the trigger. "He didn't cock it because it was already ready," Waaili said.

Assam fell to the ground. The other gunman fired three more bullets at him, then both gunmen fired into the air and left, speeding away in a white and black Chevrolet Caprice, Waaili said.

"I thought he was still alive, so I was yelling "Faris! Faris!' " Waaili said. He threw a seat cushion over Assam's body until the Iraqi police and U.S. military arrived. They interviewed Waaili and others, then left.

Husam Assam took his brother's body to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The younger sibling said two of the family's four brothers had recently returned to Iraq from London after decades of exile.

"We were five," he said, "and now we're four."

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