news services
updated 1/23/2006 5:58:18 PM ET 2006-01-23T22:58:18

Gunmen wearing uniforms of a Shiite-led security force swept into a Sunni Arab neighborhood in central Baghdad before dawn Monday, killing three men and speeding away with more than 20 others, police and witnesses said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said seven more U.S. troops had been killed — a soldier in a roadside bombing in Baghdad on Monday, two Air Force members in a blast near Taji north of the capital late Sunday, and four soldiers in a roadside bombing near the northern town of Hawijah on Friday.

There was no word on the fate of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll. Iraqi officials said joint U.S.-Iraqi operations were carried out recently to free her, but they provided no details.

Also Monday, bodies of eight Sunni Arabs were found in a field north of Baghdad — five days after they were seized on their way home by bus after being rejected for admission to the police academy in the capital. Twenty-three bodies of the group were found Sunday, and 35 were believed to have been on the bus. Police are often targeted by insurgents.

Sectarian strife thought to spread
The pre-dawn raid in the predominantly Sunni Arab of Toubji threatens to inflame sectarian tensions as leaders of Iraq’s religious and ethnic communities prepare for talks on a unity government to include Sunni Arabs, the heart of the insurgency.

Sunni Arabs have long complained of abuse by Shiite militias and security services, and have demanded that those responsible be punished.

The raid began about 5 a.m., when seven carloads of gunmen rolled into the neighborhood, witnesses and police said. The gunmen fanned out, entering one mosque and several homes. They dragged males out of their beds and herded them into the street.

Hooded figures, presumably informants, identified those to be taken away, witnesses reported. Three men were shot dead and about 20 were forced into trucks and driven away, witnesses said.

Three men were later freed in eastern Baghdad but the rest remained unaccounted for, witnesses added. One of those released, Yasser Khalil, 24, said he was beaten.

“They took us away and put us into a room in a building I didn’t recognize, where they beat us and asked us questions about who we were,” he said. “Then they took a few of us in their cars and dumped us on the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, saying if we said anything or looked at them they would kill us.”

He said his uncle, Ismail Mohsen, 44, was one of the three men killed.

Police Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi said it was unclear whether the gunmen were government security forces or simply wearing uniforms, which are easily obtained in Iraq.

Later Monday, a senior official of a government organization that administers Sunni mosques was slain by gunmen as he drove home from evening prayers at a Baghdad mosque. Naji Mohammed al-Eithaw, 55, had served as a spokesman for the Sunni Endowments and was a regular contributor to Baghdad newspapers.

Sunnis cite Shiite abuse
Sunni Arabs have long complained of abuses by the Shiite-led forces, accusing them of abducting and killing Sunni civilians under the pretext of battling the insurgency. Shiite civilians are also targeted by Sunni extremists.

“This issue is grave and will only ignite more violence in the country,” Sunni politician Harith al-Obeidi said of the Toubji raid. “The government should take serious steps to stop such acts.”

Most insurgents are Sunni Arabs while Shiites and Kurds dominate the security services, adding a sectarian and ethnic character to the conflict in Iraq. U.S. officials are seeking to encourage Sunni Arabs to join the police and army.

The 35 Sunnis rejected by the police academy were abducted as they headed to their homes in Samarra, a religiously mixed city 60 miles north of Baghdad. It was unclear why they were rejected by the academy and whether they were killed by Sunni hard-liners opposed to the recruitment program or Shiite extremists who want to keep the rival sect out of police ranks.

Sunni religious and political leaders plan to stage protests and a three-day strike in Samarra starting Tuesday to denounce the killings.

3 killed in police bombing
A suicide bomber targeted a police patrol near the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad and close to a main checkpoint into the fortified Green Zone. Two civilians and a policeman were killed and six Iraqis were wounded, officials said. Among the dead was a sports journalist for Iraqi TV station Al-Diyar.

Another car bomb exploded on a highway 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing one Iraqi civilian and wounding four, police said. A doctor who worked at the Iraqi Health Ministry in Baghdad was killed in a drive-by shooting, police added.

The latest deaths of Americans brought the number of U.S. military personnel killed since the war in Iraq began in March 2003 to at least 2,231, according to an Associated Press count.

Carroll, a freelance journalist for The Christian Science Monitor, was abducted Jan. 7 in Baghdad and her translator was killed. She has not been heard of since her kidnappers released a videotape first aired on Jan. 17. It included a threat to kill her unless all female detainees are freed.

Official: Release of women prisoners on track
Iraqi Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim Ali said six of the nine Iraqi women in U.S. custody were expected to be freed this week as part of a routine release planned before the kidnappers’ ultimatum. There has been no U.S. confirmation, but Ali said he believed the Americans were wary about the releases being seen as part of a swap for Carroll.

More than 250 foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq, either by insurgents or gangs, since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam. At least 39 have been killed.

The Monday attacks came the day before the trial of Saddam Hussein was due to resume and as political parties prepared for talks on forming a coalition government the United States hopes will undermine support for a Sunni Arab insurgency.

The chief judge in Saddam’s trial told Reuters he was standing by his decision to resign and would not preside over Tuesday’s session in the fortified Green Zone compound. Judge Rizgar Amin resigned earlier this month complaining of government interference in the trial.

Anger over election
Iraq’s Interior Ministry said a security clampdown in the capital was still in force amid fears that Sunni Arab rebels, angered by the results of a Dec. 15 election that confirmed the dominance of Shiite Islamists, would launch more attacks.

“We are expecting a rise in attacks by gunmen because of the results of the election,” a ministry official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The results, announced last Friday, gave the ruling alliance of Shiite Islamic parties 128 seats in the 275-seat parliament and 55 seats to two Sunni blocs. The Kurdish Alliance won 53 seats.

Many Sunnis believe they were cheated in the poll and the main Sunni political bloc said on Sunday it would contest the results. However, it committed itself to talks with Shiite and Kurdish parties to form a government of national unity.

The United States, eager for a stable political consensus, wants the Kurds and majority Shiites to form a government that includes Sunnis.

Iraq’s Electoral Commission will have 10 days to adjudicate on any complaints, but negotiations on Iraq’s first full-term government are expected to start in the next few days.

Weekend violence
Monday's attacks came after a weekend that saw the deaths of 23 Iraqis. On Sunday, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at a policeman’s home northeast of Baghdad, killing his four children and his brother.

Four policemen were killed and nine were wounded Sunday when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol in the tense city of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said. Police also said a man was gunned down at a west Baghdad gas station and another was slain in a market in the capital’s Amil district.

Elsewhere, the bodies of prominent Sunni Arab tribal leader, Sayid Ibrahim Ali, 75, and his 28-year-old son, Ayad, were found in a field near Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad, police said. They were shot as they left a funeral Saturday.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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