Gunmen lined up 14 employees working at an electronics trading company in Baghdad Wednesday morning and shot them all, killing eight and wounding six, police said.
Politicians working on forming a national unity government postponed talks scheduled for Wednesday, saying they needed more time to consult their political blocs about what the security powers of the prime minister should be.
The motive of the attack at the al-Ibtikar trading company in the upscale Mansour neighborhood was not immediately clear. According to survivors’ accounts to police, the assailants first asked for the company’s manager, who was not there, before firing on the employees.
The survivors said the assailants, some of whom were wearing police uniforms, identified themselves as intelligence agents from the Iraqi Interior Ministry.
Hundreds of Iraqis have been killed in sectarian violence and by death squads operating inside the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry since the Feb. 22 bombing of an important Shiite shrine in Samarra set off a wave of revenge attacks. Usually, the victims are killed secretively, their bodies discovered hours or days later.
Wave of kidnapping
The assault Wednesday was the second to target a trading company in Mansour this week. On Monday, gunmen wearing military uniforms and masks kidnapped 16 employees from the headquarters of the Saeed Import and Export Co. Police said the assailants went through papers and computer files before leaving with their captives.
Another mass abduction took place Tuesday, when masked gunmen, many in military uniform, stormed into a currency exchange and two electronic stores in broad daylight, seized 24 Iraqis and took tens of thousands of dollars. The kidnappings occurred within a half-hour, and police were investigating whether they were linked.
In Wednesday’s attack, the gunmen arrived at al-Ibtikar facility in five black BMWs about 8:15 a.m., police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said. They burned parts of the facility, but didn’t appear to have taken any money, he said.
Those killed included five men and three women.
“All these operations have one aim: to freeze life in Iraq and sabotage the democratic process. They want to take us back to the dictatorship,” said Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Khafaji, a deputy interior minister. He blamed al-Qaida and said, “We will work day and night to arrest them.”
Drive-by shooting kills cleric's staffers
Also Wednesday, gunmen killed three staffers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in a drive-by shooting in west Baghdad, Abdul-Razzaq said. A mortar round slammed to earth just outside al-Sadr’s home in the holy city of Najaf earlier in the week. The firebrand, anti-American leader, who holds great sway among poor Shiites in Baghdad, was at home but not hurt in the Sunday attack, according to an aide.
Gunmen also attacked a highway police patrol in western Baghdad, killing one policeman and wounding four others, including a civilian, police said. In south Baghdad, a sniper killed a policeman on patrol in the Dora neighborhood, and a roadside bomb in the east killed one policeman and wounded five other people, police said.
Nearly 20 others, including a 6-year-old girl, were wounded in the capital in roadside bombings, mortar attacks, gunfire and an explosion on a minibus, police said. Gunmen also wounded an official from the Iraqi Central Bank, then lat er chased a car carrying five of the official’s guards and wounded them as well, police said.
Violence mars Diyala province
There were several attacks Wednesday in Diyala province north of Baghdad. Gunmen killed two civilians and wounded another in a drive-by shooting in the town of Khalis, 50 miles north of the capital, police said. A roadside bomb in front of an Iraqi soldier’s home outside the provincial capital of Baqouba wounded the soldier’s 7-year-old son, and another bomb targeted the house of a tribal sheik in Baqouba but caused no casualties, police said.
An unmanned U.S. Air Force Predator fired a Hellfire missile at three Iraqis planting a roadside bomb near Balad Air Base north of Baghdad, killing all three, the U.S. military.
Cameras on the Predator sent back live pictures of the three insurgents for about a half-hour Tuesday night as they dug a hole in the road, placed the explosive and ran triggering wires to a nearby ditch, according to the military.
Balad, 40 miles north of Baghdad, has become the logistics hub for all U.S. military operations in Iraq.
In other violence Tuesday, one U.S. soldier was killed and three were wounded when their Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb west of Baghdad, the military said. South of Baghdad, another U.S. soldier was killed by small-arms fire.
Meanwhile, after a one-day boycott by Shiite leaders, Iraqi politicians returned to talks on forming a government Tuesday. They debated what the security powers of the new government’s prime minister should be, but reached no conclusions, Kurdish legislator Mahmoud Othman said. Talks were expected to continue Wednesday.
The United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament, had shunned talks Monday to protest a U.S.-backed raid on what Iraqis say was a mosque. At least 16 people were killed in the assault, which freed an Iraqi hostage.
In Washington, President Bush said he was “pleased to hear ... that the Iraqis are now back at the table.”
Bush spoke a day after The Associated Press reported that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad asked one of Iraq’s most prominent Shiite politicians to seek the withdrawal of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s contentious nomination for a second term.
Two aides to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim told the AP that Khalilzad urged their boss during a meeting Saturday to personally deliver the message to al-Jaafari. Instead, lower-ranking members of al-Hakim’s political bloc passed the U.S. message to members of al-Jaafari’s party, who delivered it to him, the aides said.
The United States has been pushing Iraq to speed up the formation of a unity government, seen as the best option to subdue the violence gripping several Iraqi cities — and to allow for the start of a U.S. troop withdrawal this summer.
But the talks are fragile in a country with deep sectarian differences between Shiites and Sunnis and daily violent death tolls in the dozens. Hundreds of Iraqis have been killed since the Feb. 22 bombing of the shrine.
Police discovered 17 more corpses Tuesday, all men from Baghdad who were handcuffed and shot in the head. A majority had been dumped under a bridge. Hundreds of bodies have been found since the shrine bombing.
Dozens of other Iraqis were wounded and at least seven killed in drive-by shootings and car and roadside bombings Tuesday.
With Tuesday’s deaths of U.S. soldiers, at least 2,325 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians.