Shiite gunmen ambush Sunnis in Baghdad - at least 41 killed

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The Independent Online

Masked Shiite gunmen went on a rampage Sunday in western Baghdad, pulling Sunni Arabs from cars and off the street and killing at least 41 people, police said, in a dramatic escalation of sectarian violence.

The rampage in the Jihad neighborhood was in apparent retaliation for the Saturday night car bombing of a Shiite mosque that killed two and wounded nine. Sunni leaders expressed outrage over the Sunday attacks, referring to them as a "massacre."

Police and witnesses said gunmen drove into the Jihad area in four cars at about 10 a.m. and began stopping vehicles. Those with identification cards indicating Sunni names were killed, they said. An Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said Shiite militiamen wearing masks and black uniforms also roamed the neighborhood, abducting Sunnis off the street.

Their bodies were later dumped on streets throughout the neighborhood, police said. Police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said 41 bodies had been collected and taken to hospitals. He also said U.S. and Iraqi forces had sealed off the area. Witnesses said the American forces were using loudspeakers to announce a two-day curfew. Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie, a Sunni, also called the attack "a real and ugly massacre," and blamed Iraqi security forces, widely believed to have been infiltrated by Shiite militias, for failing to maintain order. "There are officers who instead of being in charge should be questioned and referred to judicial authorities," al-Zubaie told Al-Jazeera TV. "Jihad is witnessing a catastrophic crime."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office distanced itself from al-Zubaie's comments, issuing a statement saying they "do not represent the government's point of view." The Shiite-led government has vowed to crack down on Shiite militias and Iraqi troops backed by U.S. jets raided the stronghold of Sadr City on Friday, killing and wounding dozens of people. An Interior Ministry aide said the situation was brought under control after several hours.

Maj. Gen. Ali Jasim told The Associated Press that by mid-afternoon, the neighborhood was "under the full control" of Interior Ministry commandos. Alaa Maki, a member of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, accused Shiite extremists of trying to wipe out the minority, which was dominant under Saddam Hussein but lost power to majority Shiites after his ouster. "We demand the presidency, the prime minister and the parliament stand against this agenda," he said. "The situation is very serious. If it deteriorates, all of us will be losers." Some Sunni leaders blamed the Madhdi army, the black-uniformed militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Sheikh Abdul Samad al-Hadithi, imam of the Fakhri Shanshal Sunni mosque that also was hit by a car bomb on Friday, with two people killed, said the militiamen were looking for revenge for the bombing against the Shiite mosque on Saturday. He said they first set up checkpoints and killed nine employees of the Sunni Endowment, the state agency responsible for Sunni mosques and shrines, then went on a rampage, killing more than 50 people according to their IDs. "They wanted to retaliate against people of the other sect," al-Hadithi said, accusing Interior Ministry forces at the site of standing by while the attacks occurred. Al-Sadr aide Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji denied any links, saying the attackers were wearing the black uniforms to provoke sectarian tension. Clashes also broke out in northwestern Baghdad between U.S. forces and members of the Mahdi army, the militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, leaving three militia members dead, police said. The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the clashes.

In other violence Sunday, gunmen killed an Iraqi army intelligence officer in the Shiite holy city of Karbala as security forces nationwide faced a series of deadly shootings. Maj. Qahtan Adnan Abdul-Razzaq, an intelligence officer with the Iraqi army's al-Hussein Brigade, was gunned down after his car was intercepted in the center of Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, health official Salim al-Abadi said. Policeman Mouayad Hussein was killed in a drive-by shooting as he was driving his car in the northern city of Kirkuk, police Brig. Sarhat Qadir said. Gunmen also opened fire on a police foot patrol in eastern Baghdad, killing one policeman, police Lt. Bilal Ali said.

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