Gunmen killed five Sunni security guards — including one who was beheaded — in a gruesome pre-dawn slaying Tuesday at a village checkpoint in central Iraq, officials said.
The five victims were members of the Sons of Iraq, or Awakening Councils — a Sunni-dominated security force now on the government payroll that has been targeted in revenge attacks after helping turn the tide against al-Qaida.
Authorities were alerted to the checkpoint in the village of Tal Massoud shortly after the 2 a.m. shooting, said one police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the attack with the media. The village is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Baghdad.
The police official described a scene of bullet-riddled bodies littered across the checkpoint. One of the bodies, he said, had been beheaded.
Bodies taken for burial
The leader of the village Awakening Council, Awad Sami al-Halbosi, said he also inspected the bodies after the checkpoint shooting.
"The families of the victims were called and asked to take their sons for burial, which was done," al-Halbosi told The Associated Press.
The victims were part of the Sunni tribe of Khazraj. They are the latest example of attacks on Sahwa, the Arabic word for Awakening. Some of the force fought American troops as insurgents, before tiring of the violence and turning on their former allies, the militant group al-Qaida in Iraq.
The councils have been widely credited with stabilizing Iraq after joining up with U.S. and Iraqi forces in the anti-al-Qaida drive about three years ago. But they have been hit by a steady barrage of revenge attacks since then.
Some also have complained of delayed or missed paychecks after the U.S. military stopped bankrolling the Sahwa last year and turned over the accounts to Iraq's Shiite-led government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly said he would honor the pledge to continue paying them.
The U.S. is seeking to ease some of the group's concerns. The American military also has been monitoring attacks against Awakening leaders — 212 of whom have been killed in the past two years. The U.S. military, which tallied the deaths, blames al-Qaida for the attacks.
In other deadly shootings on Tuesday, an Iraqi army intelligence officer was killed in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of al Baladiyat, Iraqi police officials said.
Drive-by shooters targeted Iraqi Army 1st Lt. Wadi Direa Atiyah as he was driving his car, said the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Atiyah was wearing civilian clothing at the time.
On Tuesday evening, two women were killed and five people were wounded when three mortar rounds landed in al Baladiyat, a police and a medical official said. Among the wounded was a four-year-old child, they said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.