Revenge attacks grip town north of Baghdad

 

Shouting for revenge after the slaying of 14 Shia workers, black-clad militias killed at least 31 people in a spasm of sectarian violence in a town north of Baghdad, police, doctors and local residents said today.

Three US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb south of Baghdad, the US military said, adding to a toll that, at the current pace, could make October the deadliest month for US forces since January 2005. Nearly 60 have been killed so far.

In the restive northern oil city of Kirkuk, four bombs exploded in apparently coordinated attacks today, killing seven people a week after a major security crackdown.

Police said three of the four blasts were suicide attacks. All took place within an hour, including a bomb that exploded near a girls' school, wounding some students.

Iraq has been gripped by sectarian violence between Muslim Shias and Sunnis since the February bombing of a Shia shrine in February. Thousands have been killed in tit-for-tat revenge killings and more than 300,000 have fled their homes.

In Balad the weekend killings were swift and brutal.

Militiamen riding in pick-up trucks set up fake checkpoints yesterday in the town 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, stopping vehicles and checking IDs in response to the killing of the workers, whose bodies were found on Friday in a nearby orchard with their throats slit and hands and legs bound.

Some of the bodies brought to the hospital in the last 24 hours were mutilated and bore signs of torture from what appeared to be reprisal sectarian attacks across Balad, a mostly Shia town surrounded by Sunni areas.

Qasim al-Qaisi, head of Balad hospital, said most of the bullet-riddled bodies were Sunni Arab men. The Shia labourers, who were from Balad, were found in nearby Dhuluiya, a mostly Sunni town across the Tigris River.

"We are preparing ourselves to receive more bodies as long as the situation can get worse," Qaisi said. "Sectarian killing is sweeping the area."

Gunmen were roving Balad and manning checkpoints today and residents said the town was tense. Hamad al-Qaisi, governor of central Salaheddin province, travelled to Balad along with the province's police chief to restore calm, officials said.