Image: Mourners carry a coffin
Alaa al-Marjani  /  AP
Mourners carry the coffin of a slain police major, targeted by gunmen with silenced pistols in Baghdad, for burial in the Shiite city of Najaf, Iraq, on Sept. 15. At least 12 slayings in Baghdad in the past two weeks have been linked to gangland-style hits using muffled weapons, including an off-duty policeman killed in a drive-by shooting on Sept. 27, officials say.
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updated 9/27/2010 3:19:28 PM ET 2010-09-27T19:19:28

For about $100 at outlaw workshops, gunmen can get what's become the tool of choice in Baghdad these days: silencers for pistols and automatic weapons.

At least 12 slayings in Baghdad in the past two weeks have been linked to gangland-style hits using muffled weapons, including an off-duty policeman killed in a drive-by shooting Monday, officials said.

It's part of a recent wave of targeted attacks on security officials and government workers that has included established insurgent tactics such as roadside bombings and explosives attached to vehicles. The slayings could be an attempt to further disrupt Iraq's Shiite leadership after March elections that have still not produced a government.

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Pinpoint killings also are nothing new to Iraq. Dozens of people — sometimes more — were gunned down each night at the height of the sectarian bloodbath between majority Shiites and Sunnis in 2006-7. Silencers on weapons have featured sporadically in attacks and robberies over the years.

But the sudden rise in silencer-linked slayings has Iraqi authorities groping for explanations.

There's the obvious embarrassment that presumed Sunni militants are still able to stalk victims in Baghdad.

Yet a flip side is possible: that security improvements have reached the level that insurgents need to increasingly resort to stealth to avoid drawing attention from authorities with gunfire and risk capture. Even the recent bombings have been conducted by remote-trigger or timer.

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A senior Iraqi intelligence officer said it shows the "the insurgents cannot operate like before" and know that security forces could move in quickly at the sound of shots fired. The officer spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

But that does not offset the death toll from an apparent campaign to strike security officials and workers linked to the Shiite-led government.

The list runs from top police and army officers to a maintenance supervisor in the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to official reports. Some were targeted by blasts, including a news anchor for state-run Iraqiya TV who was injured Monday when a bomb planted on his car exploded.

The standout weapon, however, has been a gun fitted with a silencer likely crafted from metal tubes and plastic fittings.

On Sunday, in the span of just a few hours, gunmen using silencers ambushed and killed a police lieutenant colonel as he drove near a park in Baghdad, and then left a police brigadier general dead on the sidewalk near the National Theater in central Baghdad.

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Earlier that day, assailants flagged down the car of an employee of Iraq's Committee on Anti-Corruption on Baghdad's airport road. He was also shot and killed with silenced weapons, police said, citing witnesses.

The Iraqi intelligence officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, estimated "hundreds of silencers" have been made in the past few months in an apparent shift in insurgent tactics. He said the high number is because the homemade units — which cost about $100 and created in insurgent-linked machine shops — often fail after a few rounds and must be replaced.

The officer said police plan to show one of the uncovered workshops on state TV next week.

A Baghdad machine shop owner, who would only give his name as Abu Mohammed, told the AP that he turned down requests to build silencers despite the "tempting" fee. He described the process as straightforward: using a lathe on a metal tube to get the proper fit over the gun barrel and then lining the piece with plastic rings to muffle the sound of the shot.

He said the job takes about three hours for a baton-size silencer for a pistol — a bit more for a "bin Laden," the local nickname of an AK-47 assault rifle.

In other incidents Monday, a parked car bomb exploded near the convoy of a police colonel in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, injuring the officer and four guards, said police Col. Sherzad Nofari.

In Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, militants set off bombs in two houses, injuring at least six people, police said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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