BAGHDAD — Gunmen in northern Iraq stopped a bus filled with Christians and members of a tiny Kurdish religious sect, police said, separating out the groups and taking 23 of the passengers away to be shot.
The attack came on a violent day in Baghdad, with at least 20 people killed in car bombings, most in a double suicide strike against a police station in a religiously mixed neighborhood.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, on a tour abroad to ask the mostly Sunni-led governments of the Arab world to help his struggling government stop the violence in Iraq, said he told Egypt’s president that Iraq’s reality is “not a civil or sectarian war.”
Police said the execution-style killings of the Yazidis—a primarily Kurdish sect that worships an angel figure considered to be the devil by some Muslims and Christians—appeared to be in response to the stoning death of a Yazidi woman who had recently converted to Islam.
In the northern Iraq killings, armed men in several cars stopped the bus as it was carrying workers from the Mosul Textile Factory to their hometown of Bashika, which has a mixed population of Christians and Yazidis—a primarily Kurdish sect that worships an angel figure considered to be the devil by some Muslims and Christians.
The gunmen checked passengers’ identification, then asked the Christians to get off the bus, said police Brig. Mohammed al-Wagga.
With the Yazidis still inside, the gunmen drove them to eastern Mosul, where they were lined up along a wall and shot to death, al-Wagga said.
Muslims fear reprisals
After the killings, hundreds of Yazidis took to the streets of Bashika, a town in Ninevah province that is 80 percent Yazidi, 15 percent Christian and about five percent Muslim. Shops were shuttered and many Muslims closed themselves in their homes, fearing reprisal attacks.
Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a police spokesman for Ninevah province said the executions were in response to the killing two weeks ago of a Yazidi woman who had recently converted to Islam.
The woman fell in love with a Muslim, converted to Islam and ran off with him, Khalaf said. Disapproving relatives dragged her back to Bashika, where she was stoned to death, he said. A grainy video showing gruesome scenes of the stoning was distributed on Iraqi Web sites in recent weeks.
‘Is this fair?’
In a religiously mixed neighborhood of Baghdad, two suicide car bombers attacked a police station, police said, killing at least 13 people and turning nearby buildings into piles of rubble.
The first driver raced through a police checkpoint guarding the station and exploded his vehicle just outside the two-story building, police said. Moments later, a second suicide car bomber aimed at the checkpoint’s concrete barriers and exploded just outside them, police said.
The blasts collapsed nearby buildings, smashing windows and burying at least four cars under piles of concrete. Metal roofs were peeled back by the force of the explosions. Pools of blood made red mud of a dusty driveway.
A man who was among the 82 wounded in Sunday’s attack staggered through the wreckage.
“All our belongings and money were smashed and are gone. What kind of life is this? Where is the government?” he asked. “There are no jobs, and things are very bad. Is this fair?”
Iraqi police stations often are the target of attacks by insurgents who accuse the officers of betraying Iraq by working in cooperation with its U.S.-backed Shiite government and the American military.
Suicide attacks near police station
A policeman, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said 13 people died—five policemen and eight civilians—and that 82 were wounded.
Elsewhere the capital’s southwest, a parked car bomb exploded, killing three civilians and wounding 10, police said.
The U.S. military also reported the deaths of three soldiers on Saturday.
One was killed in a rocket or mortar attack on their base southwest of Baghdad. Another died when a patrol came under fire in western Baghdad. The death of the third was not combat related, according to the military.
U.S.: No way to stop suicide bombers
A top U.S. general said Sunday that American forces had no technology capable of detecting all suicide bombers before they strike. Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is in charge of training Iraqi troops, said the only solution is for Iraqi forces, government officials and civilians to work together to stop the terrorist cells planning attacks.
“There is no technological solution that will guarantee that we can prevent ... either a suicide bomber or a suicide car bomber from entering into the populated areas,” Dempsey told reporters in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
The heavily fortified zone came under an apparent mortar attack for the second consecutive day, sending black smoke billowing into the sky. U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said no casualties were immediately reported.
PM shifts on wall around Sunni enclave
Al-Maliki said Sunday that he has ordered a halt to the construction of a barrier that would separate a Sunni enclave from surrounding Shiite areas in Baghdad, saying there are other ways to protect the neighborhood.
The U.S. military announced last week that it was building a large concrete wall in the northern Azamiyah section of Baghdad in an effort to protect the minority Sunnis from attacks by Shiites living nearby.
The decision drew sharp criticism from residents and Sunni leaders who complained it would isolate their community.
In his first public comments on the issue, al-Maliki said he had ordered the construction to stop.
“I oppose the building of the wall and its construction will stop,” al-Maliki told reporters during a joint news conference with the Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa in Cairo, Egypt. “There are other methods to protect neighborhoods.”
He did not elaborate but added “this wall reminds us of other walls,” in an apparent reference to the wall that divided the German city of Berlin during the Cold War.
For al-Maliki, a delicate time
Al-Maliki’s trip abroad came at a precarious time for his regime. He suffered a blow last week when six Cabinet ministers allied to the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr quit the government, to protest the prime minister’s failure to back calls for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Al-Maliki is expected to name replacements in the coming days.
The Iraqi prime minister’s Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Nazif, said his government would support “reconciliation between all parts of the Iraqi society and we condemn terrorism that does not differentiate between anyone.”
After Egypt, al-Maliki is scheduled to visit Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
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