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Gunmen in military uniforms kill 24 in Iraqi Sunni village

Group apparently targeted for revolt against insurgents

Women reacted to the killing of relatives at one of the houses in Baghdad that was attacked yesterday. The bloodshed occurred amid increasing concerns that insurgents will take advantage of Iraq’s political turmoil to further destabilize the country. Women reacted to the killing of relatives at one of the houses in Baghdad that was attacked yesterday. The bloodshed occurred amid increasing concerns that insurgents will take advantage of Iraq’s political turmoil to further destabilize the country. (Saad Shalash/Reuters)
By Elizabeth A. Kennedy
Associated Press / April 4, 2010

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BAGHDAD — Gunmen pretending to be Iraqi security forces and US soldiers killed at least 24 people, shooting some and slitting others’ throats as they moved from house to house, officials and residents said yesterday.

The victims of the hourlong incident included women and children, but most were members of the Awakening, a Sunni paramilitary force also known as the Sons of Iraq that battled insurgents at the behest of the US military.

The targeted killings were perhaps the most brutal since the horrific spiral of sectarian assassinations in 2006 and 2007 pulled Iraq into a state of civil war. With American forces no longer patrolling Iraqi cities, the killings also reinforced a sense of abandonment among Iraqi Sunnis, whose tribes defied insurgents to join forces with the United States despite their distrust of the Shi’ite-led government.

The Americans completed the transfer of control of the Sons of Iraq to the Iraqi government last year.

Iraqi officials and local residents said they believed that the killings south of Baghdad were carried out by Sunni insurgents seeking to avenge the tribes’ defiance and terrify the local population. But there were competing assertions that the killers were Shi’ites, who formed death squads to kill Sunnis during Iraq’s darkest days and who might now be seeking to strike back against the surprising political clout that Sunnis displayed in last month’s parliamentary elections.

The US military pulled out of Iraq’s cities over the summer, but maintains a small presence in the rural belt of Baghdad, which in the past has been home to insurgent havens. Most of the information the Americans receive about violence in Iraq now comes secondhand through Iraqi commanders.

“The Americans abandoned the people who helped them to enter this area, and now what’s happening? Now they are being killed and arrested, and no one protects them,’’ said Adai al-Jubouri, a tribal chief.

A woman in the area last night begged visitors to stay away, saying she was worried that she and her sons would be the next victims. “It’s dangerous now, they’ve returned to the killings. Don’t go there,’’ the woman said.

The US military referred questions about the attack to the Iraqi government.

Philip Frayne, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Baghdad, called the killings barbaric. “Nothing can possibly justify them. We’re concerned any time people are senselessly murdered. We urge the Iraqi police and judicial authorities to investigate this massacre thoroughly and bring those responsible to justice,’’ he said.

The incident began Friday morning when gunmen slipped into the neighborhood of Hor Rajab, a vast area of farmland just south of Baghdad, and hid in a house waiting for darkness.

Rumors quickly spread that Americans were in the area after the men inside the house yelled “Go, go!’’ in English to approaching residents, Jubouri said.

Accounts of the incident differed, but residents said the killings started about 8 p.m. Friday. Some residents and relatives of the victims said the gunmen arrived in what looked like the pickup trucks driven by Iraqi federal police.

Others said that the men came on foot and that they apparently killed a man and a woman in the house where they hid all morning. They then reportedly walked to the house of Shaker Hamid, a member of the Awakening. The gunmen locked women and children in one room and took five men to the roof, where they slit their throats, residents said.

The attackers stole a truck from the house and drove to their next target, Jubouri said. At least 16 people were shot in two other houses, residents said.

According to Qassim al-Aamree, whose sister-in-law was killed in the attack, the gunmen carried a list and called out names of residents, lined them up, and shot them.

He said 25 people were killed before the gunmen left about 9 p.m.

“It seems those criminal gangs of Al Qaeda in Iraq have started to become active again,’’ said Mustafa Kamal Shibeeb, a leader of the Awakening in Arab Jubour, a Sunni area just south of the capital. “It was a horrific crime, killing these innocents, including women and children.’’

Shibeeb planned to run in the March 7 elections but was barred for supposed loyalties to the outlawed Ba’ath Party.

A US military official said he was seeing signs that Al Qaeda in Iraq was making overtures to the Sons of Iraq, whose members feel targeted by the government. Many of them are former insurgents, and government officials are distrustful of them.