June 4, 2006

Students “executed” as Iraq violence rages on

By Fredrik Dahl and Michael Georgy

BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) - Gunmen in Iraq dragged 24 people,
mostly students, from vehicles and shot them dead, police said,
as violence raged across the country on Sunday.

Iraqi leaders appeared deadlocked on naming new interior
and defense ministers seen as critical to restoring stability
in a country bloodied by relentless insurgent and sectarian

Police said gunmen manning a makeshift checkpoint near
Udhaim stopped vehicles approaching the small town 120 km (80
miles) north of Baghdad and killed passengers.

"(They) dragged them one by one from their cars and
executed them," said a police official.

The victims included students on their way to write end of
term exams, children and elderly men, said another senior
police official in Diyala province, scene of frequent attacks
by insurgents waging a campaign of bombings and shootings to
topple the U.S.-backed, Shi'ite-led government.

Some tried to flee but were gunned down, another police
source said. Reuters photographs showed six men shot in the
chest, including one old man and five young men. It was unclear
whether the victims were high school or university students.

In Iraq's south, a Sunni religious group accused security
forces in the Shi'ite-run city of Basra of killing 12 unarmed
worshippers in a mosque early on Sunday, but police said they
had returned fire and shot dead nine terrorists.

The incident came just hours after a car bomb killed 28
people in Basra, challenging a state of emergency declared by
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to crack down on criminal gangs
and Shi'ite factions whose feuding threatens oil exports.

It was among the worst violence Iraq's second city has seen
since U.S.-forced invaded to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Communal violence has mounted throughout Iraq since the
February bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in the city of Samarra,
touching off a wave of revenge killings that sparked fears of
civil war.

The United States, which has 130,000 troops in Iraq, hopes
Maliki's broad coalition of majority Shi'ites and minority
Sunnis and Kurds will be able to defuse the violence.


Key to that will be the naming of non-sectarian interior
and defense ministers who can quell communal and insurgent

Intense wrangling forced Maliki to leave the posts empty
when he unveiled his government of national unity on May 20. He
has threatened to present his own nominees to parliament if
political blocs fail to agree on candidates.

Government sources had said leaders were close to a deal to
present to parliament on Sunday former Shi'ite army officer
Farouk al-Araji for interior minister and Sunni General Abdel
Qader Jassim, commander of Iraqi ground forces, for defense.

But deputy speaker Khaled al-Attiya said on Sunday the
parliament session had been postponed "until further notice."

Political sources said the powerful Shi'ite Alliance was
deadlocked on a nominee for the Interior Ministry post. They
said the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, part
of the Alliance, had threatened to reject Araji's nomination.

Some members of the Alliance said a deal could still be
struck later on Sunday. But even so, there are no guarantees
the successful candidates will be able to stabilize the

Iraqi state television quoted Interior Ministry officials
as saying four Russian embassy employees kidnapped in Baghdad
had been freed. The embassy said it could not confirm this.

A Russian embassy employee in Baghdad was killed on
Saturday and four other embassy staff were kidnapped when
gunmen blocked their vehicle in Mansour district, the latest of
many attacks against foreigners in the chaotic capital.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny and Ahmed Rasheed
in Baghdad, and Aref Mohammed in Basra)