Gunmen storm Sunni enclave in Baghdad, kill 24

Sat Apr 3, 2010 11:59am EDT

* Gunmen in military uniforms kill 24

* Stormed houses in Sunni enclave in southern Baghdad

* Some victims were insurgents who turned against al Qaeda

(Adds details, quotes, changes dateline from BAGHDAD)

By Waleed Ibrahim

ALBUSAIFI, Iraq, April 3 (Reuters) - Gunmen wearing military uniforms stormed a Sunni Muslim village near Baghdad and killed 24 people, some of them former insurgents who turned against al Qaeda, Iraqi authorities said on Saturday.

The Iraqi military blamed the attack late on Friday on al Qaeda militants. The gunmen may have been pretending to be U.S. soldiers because they wore U.S.-style uniforms and sunglasses and spoke some English, according to a military source at the scene.

A police source said the gunmen handcuffed the victims in Albusaifi, a former al Qaeda village south of Baghdad, and shot them in the head.

At least seven people were left alive, their hands tied behind their backs, Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said.

Ibrahim Talib, 14, told Reuters armed men came to his home with a list of names and asked for his mother, Ayda Hasan, 35.

"They said, 'Come outside, we want to ask you some questions.' When she went outside, they shot her," said Ibrahim, whose father was kidnapped by al Qaeda in 2007 and has not been seen since.

Iraqi authorities had warned of a possible escalation of violence due to rising tensions surrounding a March 7 parliamentary election that produced no clear winner.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said 24 people had been arrested and 15 others were being sought.

Iraqi and U.S. troops sealed off the village at the end of a winding dirt road that had many security checkpoints on it. Troops escorted reporters to the site, limited contact with villagers and forbade filming.

Asked who he suspected, a man in his 40s pointed at soldiers and said, "Don't ask me, ask the Iraqi army. They know who did this."

The attack was launched from a nearby village that is an al Qaeda stronghold, a Defence Ministry spokesman said.

"We call this area Kandahar," an Iraqi officer said, referring to the Afghan city that is a Taliban strongpoint.



SONS OF IRAQ

Moussawi said some of the victims were members of the Iraqi security forces and others of the Sahwa movement, or the "Sons of Iraq". The group comprises Sunni former insurgents who joined the Iraqi government and U.S. forces to fight al Qaeda militants and are credited with helping turn the tide of the Iraq war.

The attack was the largest of its kind in Baghdad in recent months, although the capital has been the target of large-scale bombings.

Violence has fallen sharply in Iraq in the last two years following the sectarian slaughter of 2006-07, but assassinations, bombings and mortar attacks still occur daily.

A source in the Iraqi security forces' intelligence service said 10 to 15 gunmen in pickup trucks were involved in the attack. He said Sons of Iraq members were targeted because they were loyal to the government.

"We have intelligence information that says al Qaeda is trying to re-organise itself," he said.

Nearly four weeks after the election, political coalitions are negotiating alliances that could give them the majority in Iraq's 325-seat parliament needed to form a government.

Iyad Allawi, whose cross-sectarian Iraqiya alliance narrowly edged Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law for a plurality of seats, has warned of possible violence if majority-Shi'ite coalitions unite in a bid to exclude his bloc.

Iraqiya won strong support from Sunnis in Baghdad and Sunni-dominated provinces in the north and west. (Additional reporting by Khalid al-Ansary and Muhanad Mohammed; Writing by Jim Loney and Ian Simpson; Editing by Myra MacDonald)



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