Iraq War: Fourteen Police Deaths Revenge

Against the backdrop of relentless sectarian bloodshed, fourteen Iraqi police officers kidnapped on Thursday were found murdered on Friday, apparently in revenge for the alleged rape of a Sunni woman by Shiite police in Baghdad nearly two weeks ago.

After the Shiite-led Maliki government conducted a seemingly superficial investigation that exonerated the accused police officers and labeled the woman a criminal, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq vowed revenge on the woman’s behalf.

An insurgent group linked to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the killings on Friday in a statement posted on the internet. “This blessed operation came in response to what these apostates are doing in fighting the Sunni folk and the last such act by these treacherous agencies was the rape of our sister,” said the statement. The group also threatened a continuing “honor revenge” campaign in which 2,000 police and Shiite militiamen would be killed “for each sister violated”.

On Thursday, the group ambushed a convoy of Interior Ministry security forces traveling from Baquba (40 miles north of Baghdad) to their hometown of Khalis nearby, where they intended to take leave from work. The gunmen managed to kidnap 18 of the 55 men.

Hours later, in a photograph posted on the internet, the 18 kidnapped men were shown standing and kneeling blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs. Seven were dressed in police uniforms and several had identity papers pinned to their shirts. An insurgent appeared to be pointing a rifle at the group.

accused of the rape in Baghdad and release all Sunni women held in (Shiite-dominated) Interior Ministry jails within 24 hours. The demands were refused, and the group carried out what they called “God’s verdict”.

The bodies of 14 of the men were found on Friday, their hands still bound behind their backs, near a school just outside Baquba, the capital of Diyala province. It is not clear whether the four remaining men have been released or are still being held hostage.

There are conflicting reports regarding the cause of the men’s deaths. Reuters has reported that the men were shot in the head, execution style. Agence France-Presse, meanwhile, has reported that the men were found with their throats cut.

The province of Diyala is home to nearly 1.5 million Iraqis including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds and has long been a flashpoint for sectarian violence. Shiites dominate the provincial government.

The sectarian bloodshed continued across Iraq this week, as US and Iraqi forces pressed ahead with Operation Impose Order.

In Baghdad, a car bomb ripped through a used car lot in Sadr City on Friday, killing 10 people and wounding 17. The US-Iraqi security crackdown has so far avoided Sadr City, home of the Shiite Mahdi Army, despite US and Iraqi officials’ assurances that the new offensive would target both Shiite and Sunni militias. Officials are now negotiating with local community leaders to establish a permanent presence for US-Iraqi forces in the district.

In Anbar province, stronghold of the Sunni insurgency and al Qaeda in Iraq, two soccer players were shot dead by militants in front of a horrified crowd in the capital Ramadi on Thursday. The two men were accused of colluding with the Salvation Council of Anbar, a group led by local Sunni sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi – an outspoken critic of al Qaeda who has renounced armed groups and has thrown his support behind the Iraqi government and US forces. Sunni tribal leaders are increasingly challenging al Qaeda in a power struggle for Anbar province.

In western Anbar, Iraqi security forces reportedly killed 80 al Qaeda militants after fierce gun battles which lasted most of Wednesday. The militants are said to have attacked a local Sunni village, with government forces alerted by fleeing villagers. The US military was not involved in the day-long battle.

It is clear that US and Iraqi forces will face mounting challenges as they try to gain the upper hand on an equally determined insurgency, whose targets and tactics seem to be constantly shifting.

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