Sunni aid workers abducted

Kidnapping in Iraq seen as latest incident in sectarian war

July 20, 2006|By BORZOU DARAGAHI

BAGHDAD -- Gunmen in the uniforms of Iraq's Shiite-dominated police commandos set up a checkpoint north of the capital and kidnapped 10 employees of the main Sunni religious foundation yesterday, the latest attack in a growing sectarian war.

Iraqi officials said about 10 employees of the Sunni endowment were heading home in a minibus to the Taji area when they were stopped by men wearing black uniforms and equipped with sport-utility vehicles apparently from the Ministry of Interior.

The gunmen released a female employee while taking the nine others to an unknown location, said Abdul Majeed Thabi, director general of the endowment, a government agency that manages religious charities and oversees millions of dollars in the sect's bequests and tithes.

Thabi said that in a separate incident 10 security guards at the endowment's northern Baghdad headquarters were kidnapped Tuesday as they were heading to work.

Victims of such kidnappings are often found dead, dumped in desolate lots with bullet wounds to their skulls, and burns and electrical drill scars all over their bodies. According to a study released this week by the United Nations mission in Iraq, 1,375 unidentified bodies were found in Iraq during May and 1,595 in June. At least 30 bodies were found by authorities yesterday in various parts of southern and western Baghdad.

Also yesterday, a homemade bomb planted near a grocery store in the mostly Shiite New Baghdad district killed six Iraqi civilians and injured eight others.

Three explosions on the street along Baghdad's Technology University killed five and injured 22.

Gunmen also shot to death Gen. Fahir Abdul Hussein, a Ministry of Interior legal affairs official, in western Baghdad.

There were numerous reports yesterday of clashes between groups of unidentified gunmen in various sections of the capital. Clashes broke out in the southern Baghdad districts of Dora and Bayaa and the northern district of Shuala as well as inside Taji, a Sunni city 15 miles north of the capital.

Four Iraqi police commandos were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad. Mortar shells struck a west Baghdad neighborhood, killing two.

As dusk settled, a panicked Yarmuk Hospital security officer hiding behind his desk described by telephone a gunfight erupting inside and outside the compound. The attack was apparently an attempt by insurgents to free a wounded comrade inside the city's main downtown medical facility. A police officer was killed.

The abductions, shootings and bombings were the latest in a series of escalating attacks and counterattacks in what has become an undeclared civil war between the Shiite and Sunni sects. The killings have reached a fever pitch, with about 6,000 dead in the months of May and June, according to the human rights report by the United Nations mission in Iraq.

The 22-page report paints a picture of a country descending into barbarism, lawlessness and misery, with "women, children and vulnerable groups, such as minorities, internally displaced and disabled persons" hurt by violence and "ongoing impunity" for violators of human rights.

The report notes that "security incidents are said to occur within view of the police," and that victims have included clergy, politicians, judges, lawyers, athletes, teachers, professors, students and homosexuals.

Since April 2003, 104 doctors and 165 nurses were reported killed.

But the targeted killings of Iraqis based on religious identity remain Iraq's most disruptive layer of violence.

"There is a significant increase in sectarian violence which is worrisome," said Gianni Nagazzeni, Baghdad-based chief of the mission's human rights office. "There is also greater willingness by the government to address human rights in a transparent manner."

Majority Shiites, oppressed under Saddam Hussein and previous Sunni-led regimes, dominate the current government's security forces. Embittered Sunnis, favored under Hussein, now lead an insurgency against government forces and U.S. forces, as well as ordinary Shiites.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Killed in Iraq

As of yesterday, at least 2,556 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003.

Identifications

Cpl. Nathaniel S. Baughman, 23, Monticello, Ind.; died Monday in Bayji when his vehicle was hit by grenades; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky.

Sgt. 1st Class Scott R. Smith, 34, Punxsutawney, Pa.; killed Monday by an explosive in Iskandariyah; assigned to the 737th Explosive Ordnance Detachment, 52nd Ordnance Group, Fort Belvoir, Va.

[Associated Press]

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