World News

Thirteen arrested over Iraq village killings

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces arrested 13 suspects and blamed the al Qaeda militant group on Wednesday for killing 24 people in a village near Baghdad last week.

The attack was one of a series that prompted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to step up security in the capital, a month after a parliamentary election that Iraqis had hoped would stabilise their nation after years of sectarian warfare.

Gunmen wearing military uniforms stormed Albusaifi, a Sunni Muslim village south of Baghdad, on Friday. Among those killed were former members of the Awakening movement, or Sons of Iraq -- insurgents who turned against al Qaeda and helped turn the tide of the war.

“It was a criminal incident and the print of the al Qaeda organization was clear,” Major General Ali al-Fraji, the head of army security south of Baghdad, said at a news conference.

The defence ministry said 16 people were involved in the attack on Albusaifi, all members of one family. Thirteen were arrested and 10 had confessed, Fraji said, though he did not specify the charges.

The March 7 vote produced no clear winner and could deepen Iraq’s sectarian divide, stirring fears of increased violence as politicians jockey for positions in a new coalition government.

The Albusaifi killings were followed two days later by suicide car bomb attacks on foreign embassies in Baghdad that killed at least 41 people and wounded more than 200.

On Tuesday, coordinated bombings across Baghdad destroyed seven buildings and killed at least 35 people.

The formation of a new government could still be weeks or months away, raising concerns about a power vacuum that could cause violence.

Sectarian killing exploded when politicians took more than five months to agree on a government after the parliamentary elections in 2005.

Reporting by Jim Loney, editing by Paul Taylor