Baghdad gunmen hunt down and kill Sunnis off the streets
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Wissam Mohammad al-Ani was walking to a bus stop when three gunmen demanded his identification.Believing they were Shiites, the Sunni produced a fake ID with a Shiite name. The gunmen took two young men standing nearby.Those young men and a disputed number of other Sunnis were swept off the streets of west Baghdad’s Jihad neighborhood in a rampage by masked Shiite gunmen Sunday that dramatically escalated sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital.Hours later, two car bombs exploded in an apparent reprisal attack near a Shiite mosque in north Baghdad, killing 17 people and wounding 38, police said.Police said 41 people were killed during the rampage, most believed to be Sunnis. A senior government official, Haidar Majid, insisted only nine people died in Jihad.Regardless of the disputed figures, the brazen attack was almost certain to enflame Shiite-Sunni tensions and undermine public confidence in Iraq’s new unity government. It also revived questions about the ability of the Iraqi police and army to curb sectarian violence in the capital.Black-clad Shiite militiamen manned checkpoints on roads into most major Shiite neighborhoods to guard against revenge attacks, as scattered clashes occurred across the Iraqi capital.Outrage, appeal for calmSunni leaders expressed outrage, and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, appealed for calm, warning that the nation stood “in front of a dangerous precipice.”Presidential security adviser Wafiq al-Samaraie told Al-Jazeera television that “we are at the gates of civil war” unless “exceptional measures” are taken.The trouble started about 10 a.m. when several carloads of gunmen drove into Jihad, a once prosperous neighborhood of handsome villas owned by officials of Saddam Hussein’s security services, police and witnesses said. The gunmen stopped cars, checked passengers’ identification cards and shot dead those with Sunni names.Masked gunmen wearing black clothes roamed the streets, abducting Sunnis whose bodies were found later scattered throughout the religiously mixed neighborhood, an Interior Ministry official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.U.S. and Iraqi forces sealed off the area, and residents said American troops using loudspeakers announced a two-day curfew. Black smoke from burning tires wafted through the streets.Police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said 41 bodies had been collected and taken to hospitals. Some Sunni clerics put the death toll at more than 50.Police and Shiite leaders speculated the rampage was retaliation for a Saturday night car bombing at a Shiite mosque that killed two people and wounded nine.The spokesman for a Sunni clerical association, Mohammed Beshar al-Faydhi, blamed the Jihad attack on the Mahdi Army militia, led by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Faydhi told Al-Jazeera that he had documents to prove his allegation.