Massacre in Baghdad: 57 killed

Bands of masked gunmen went on a rampage on Sunday in a predominantly Sunni Baghdad neighbourhood, killing at least 42 Sunni Arabs in a gruesome sectarian attack despite a massive security crackdown, witnesses said.

The apparent response to the attacks was swift, with at least 15 people killed and 35 wounded in two powerful car bombs next to a Shi’ite mosque in a mixed neighbourhood of the predominantly Sunni district of Adhamiyah on the capital’s north side, an interior ministry official said.

Earlier gunmen began killing people after setting up fake checkpoints in the western Baghdad neighbourhood of Jihad and also raiding people’s homes, witnesses said.

“They also went into certain Sunni houses and killed everyone inside,” a witness who declined to be named told Agence France-Presse.

“Outside the mosque I saw the bodies of 10 men, all shot in the head, and they showed severe signs of torture,” said Sheikh Abdel Samad al-Obeidi, imam of the Sunni Fakhri Shanshal mosque in the neighbourhood, which was bombed on Friday killing two.

“I blame the Mehdi Army militiamen for this killing—it is all in the open now,” he added, referring to the armed group linked to radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

He also accused police commandos, who have checkpoints in the area, of being “complicit in the crime for turning a blind eye”.

In the run-up to Sunday’s rampage, Sunni and Shiite holy places were increasingly targeted in ongoing civil strife in Baghdad, with the Shi’ite Fatima Zahra mosque being bombed on Saturday killing seven and wounding 17.

In the past months there have been more and more sectarian-linked attacks in the capital’s neighbourhoods.

Sheikh Mahmud al-Sudani, the imam of the Shiite mosque, said the attacks were carried out by relatives of Shi’ites who had been killed or driven out of the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood in recent months.

“For the past five months Shi’ites have been killed and evicted from the neighbourhood. Those Shi’ites killed come from tribes from the south that wanted to take revenge,” said Sudani, a follower of al-Sadr.

“The hair that broke the camel’s back was the attack on the mosque yesterday [Saturday],” he said.

Fakhria Hussein, a Shi’ite resident of the neighbourhood who works outside it, received a call from her son telling her not to come home because it was too dangerous.

“He told me that masked men stormed into our neighbours’ home, a Sunni, and he heard shots and screams,” she said.

Firas Shimmari, a security guard, received a similar call from his brother who reported that the gunmen were checking people’s IDs and attacking them if they indicated the person was Sunni.

“They looked at his ID and asked him where he was from and he said [the Shiite holy city of] Karbala, so they told him ‘you are fine’,” said Shimmari, adding that his brother had seen corpses by the side of the checkpoint.

The massacre ended only when US and Iraqi forces surrounded the area and imposed a curfew.

“Today we face a very a deep and dangerous slope, which is killing based on identity,” President Jalal Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, said in a statement.

“I call on the the Iraqi people to control themselves and avoid knee-jerk reactions which can only lead to regret and pain.”

For his part Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, said the government must take immediate steps to protect civilians by purging the country’s security forces of the influence of Shi’ite militiamen.

“This is a plea from the vice-president to the prime minister to do the right thing and protect the lives of innocent people who have become targets for the militias amid the silence and non-intervention of some security forces,” he told state television al-Iraqiya.

A wave of sectarian violence has engulfed Iraq, especially Baghdad, since the bombing of a revered Shi’ite shrine in Samarra in February.

Sunday’s rampage came despite an ongoing security operation in the capital since mid-June involving tens of thousands of troops patrolling the streets.

In other violence at least eight people were killed including two Sunni clerics from the powerful Muslim Scholars Association, a Sunni religious body.

Meanwhile, the abductors of Taiseer al-Mashhadani, a Sunni woman MP demanded the release of 25 prisoners held in United States jails in Iraq in return for her freedom, a Sunni politician told AFP.

They freed two of the seven bodyguards captured along with her on July 1 in Baghdad.

The US military said it had charged five more soldiers in connection with the rape and murder of an Iraqi woman and the killing of three of her family members on March 12 south of Baghdad.

Four of the five soldiers indicted on Sunday were charged with rape and murder and the fifth with dereliction of duty for failing to report the offences.

An army veteran of the Iraq war, Steven Green (21) was charged by the US civilian authorities last week in the same case. - Sapa-AFP

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