Nearly 90 people kidnapped or killed, Sunnis say

Crimes blamed on Shiites unconfirmed but likely to increase sectarian tensions


BAGHDAD -- Sunni Arab political leaders said yesterday that nearly 90 Sunnis had been reported abducted or killed over the past two days by groups with possible ties to the nation's Shiite Muslim-led Interior Ministry forces.

In one incident, as many as 25 men just released from detention were allegedly whisked away by gunmen in SUVs. The Sunnis also allege that 20 corpses turned up in Baghdad, all people allegedly abducted by security forces on the morning of April 4.

The facts remain sketchy and difficult to confirm, and the political groups making the claims have in the past exaggerated figures and accounts. Two ranking members of Iraq's security forces said they knew nothing about the fresh reports of abductions and deaths.

But the allegations, broadcast over radio stations and posted on political Web sites, likely will further inflame tensions between Iraq's Sunni minority and Shiite majority. The reports come as each group's political leaders try to depict the other side as carrying out sectarian violence in an attempt to gain leverage in the country's continuing power struggle.

"We swear that after today denouncing and condemning is not enough, and tongues that speak will not be pleased unless hands take action after the new tremendous crime committed by security apparatuses, a crime that shakes consciences, wets eyes and wakes from sleep," said a statement issued by the Muslim Scholars Association, a leading Sunni clerical group.

A U.S. soldier was killed when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in an area southwest of Baghdad, the military said. U.S. forces, which had scaled back operations in the capital, have increased patrols by 45 percent over the past two months in hopes that their presence on the streets will stem the burgeoning sectarian violence.

"The increase is to give more visible presence of the security forces inside the streets of Baghdad," Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, spokesman for U.S. forces, told reporters yesterday. Insurgents "want to stop the formation of a national unity government by triggering sectarian violence. ... The enemy is still there, but we are taking the fight to the enemy, specifically in Baghdad."

Later yesterday, an explosion in a crowded marketplace of a poor Shiite neighborhood on Baghdad's northern outskirts killed at least 15 people and injured 27, the latest in a series of attacks targeting Shiite civilians and houses of worship. A triple suicide bombing after Friday prayers last week at Baghdad's Buratha Mosque left scores dead; security officials braced for more violence today, the Muslim world's day of worship.

Attempts to form a government continued to be stalled, with Iraq's Shiite parties challenging a decision by Parliament's Sunni president emeritus to convene Parliament next week before politicians had outlined a government. Talks remain stalemated over Sunni and Kurdish opposition to acting Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's nomination to continue in his post by the largest Shiite bloc in Parliament.

The 20 bodies found in recent days were mostly Sunnis said by their relatives and morgue officials to be found scattered around Baghdad. The victims were among 63 people allegedly abducted in a morning Iraqi police raid April 4 in Dora, according to the statement issued by the Muslim Scholars Association. A police source said at least four bodies of unknown men were discovered yesterday in various parts of the capital.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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