Gunmen kill Shi'ite families in Baghdad after raid

Gunmen killed nine members of two Shi’ite families in a mostly Sunni neighbourhood of Baghdad on Sunday and police found the bodies of 60 more apparent victims of sectarian killings gripping the capital.

A day after Shi’ite militias raided a mixed neighbourhood and forced dozens of Sunni families to flee in one of the worst incidents of sectarian cleansing in weeks, gunmen stormed a home in a predominantly Sunni area in Baghdad and killed five brothers from one family after separating them from the women.

A father and three sons from another family were also killed in the attack in Jihad district, officials and relatives said.

In Washington, the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel set up to review United States policy, defended its recommendations that the US engage Syria and Iran in a dialogue aimed at stabilising Iraq, and accelerate training of Iraqi forces in order to pull back US combat troops by early 2008.

More than 2 900 US troops have died since the 2003 US-led invasion. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died.

“What we’re saying in this report is we want to conclude this war, we want to conclude it in a responsible way,” former Democratic representative Lee Hamilton, a co-chair of the group, said.

“We do not want American forces involved in sectarian clashes or violence, that’s not our business,” Hamilton said on the Fox News Sunday television programme.

Former secretary of state James Baker, also a co-chair of the group, urged the Iraqi government to pursue national reconciliation between Kurds, Shi’ites and Sunnis.

“If the Iraqi government cannot implement national reconciliation, we’re going to have an extraordinarily difficult time,” Baker told NBC’s Meet the Press programme.

Bush, under pressure to change course, has shied away from embracing major recommendations of the report, which described the situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating”.

Tit-for-tat

Iraq is gripped by tit-for-tat sectarian killings between majority Shi’ites and Sunnis.

Haider, a relative of one of the families killed in Jihad, said all of the dead were Shi’ites.
“The gunmen broke into the house. They locked the mother and the sisters in one room and killed the five brothers in another room.”

Interior Ministry sources said three headless bodies were found.

The attack came a day after Mehdi Army militias loyal to anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr burned homes and killed at least two people in the religiously mixed Hurriya area in western Baghdad, witness and Interior Ministry sources said.

Dozens of Sunni families, including women and children, fled Hurriya on foot and in trucks at nightfall and took refuge in schools and mosques in neighbouring Amil district.

An old man wept and cried for revenge: “I call upon all Sunnis to carry guns and fight the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, who burned our houses and displaced us.”

As sectarian warfare engulfed the capital, outgoing US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit to U.S. troops in Iraq.

“The enemy must be defeated. General [John] Abizaid [US central command chief] said: ‘We can certainly walk away from this enemy but they will not walk away from us’,” Rumsfeld was quoted on the Department of Defence website as telling troops in Anbar province, heartland of the Sunni insurgency.

While Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has welcomed the recommendations of the Iraqi Study Group, Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s ethnic Kurd president, blasted the report, which suggested embedding thousands more US advisers in Iraq’s security forces to quicken their training.

“It asks that they put foreign officers in every unit, which is a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty ... What will remain of our sovereignty?” he said.

Bush has promised to consider the findings “very seriously”. He will meet this week with officials from the State Department, Pentagon and outside experts on Iraq, and hold a video teleconference with military commanders. - Reuters

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