Twelve Iraqi Police Detained for Sunni Tel Afar Slaughter

Twelve Iraqi police have been detained in connection with the slaughter of seventy Sunni men and boys in the northern city of Tel Afar overnight, apparently in revenge for a double suicide bombing on Tuesday in which 85 people were killed and 150 wounded.

The overnight rampage in the Sunni neighborhood of al-Wihda began at 2 a.m. and lasted several hours, as Iraqi police and Shiite militants dragged men and teenaged boys from their beds and shot them in the back of the head.

“I wish you can come and see all the bodies. They are lying in the grounds. We don’t have enough space in the hospital. All of the victims were shot in the head,” one doctor told Reuters by telephone from the main hospital in Tal Afar. “Between 50 and 55 people were killed. I’ve never seen such a thing in my life.”

Major-General Khorshid Saleem, who heads the Third Army Division in Tal Afar, put the death toll at 70 and said that 30 more men and boys had been wounded and 40 kidnapped.

The carnage only stopped when a contingent of Iraqi troops arrived to take control. They quickly imposed a curfew and rounded up twelve policemen and six Shiite militiamen they claim were responsible for the bloodshed.

Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has ordered an inquiry into the incident.

Only last year President Bush pronounced Tel Afar, an agrarian city in the Ninawa province close the regional capital of Mosul and the Syrian border, an example of US military success in Iraq. Tel Afar had been notorious as a northern insurgent haven and a point of entry for foreign fighters, until the US military established a strong presence there in 2005, in partnership with local Iraqi police and security forces.

However, sectarian tensions have recently been rising between Shiite and Sunni residents, who are mostly ethnic Iraqi Turkmen.

On Tuesday, two trucks exploded in the northern and central districts of Tel Afar, leaving 55 people dead and 180 wounded. The first suicide bomber posed as a humanitarian relief worker distributing sacks of flour in a Shiite neighborhood. Once a crowd of local residents had gathered around his truck, he detonated the explosives. Minutes later, a second suicide bomber blew up his vehicle in a used car lot in a religiously mixed area of Tel Afar.

With US and Iraqi forces focused primarily on quelling sectarian violence in Baghdad, other areas of Iraq have seen a spike in violence.

In Fallujah, insurgents carried out two coordinated attacks on Wednesday. Eight Iraqi soldiers were killed at a checkpoint outside a US military base when two suicide car bombs exploded. A US military statement said there would have been more casualties had the Iraqi police not identified and fired on the bombers.

“Iraqi police identified the first suicide attacker and fired on the truck, causing it to detonate before reaching the compound,” said the statement. “Iraqi Army soldiers spotted the second suicide truck approaching the gate and engaged it with small arms fire, causing it to also detonate near the entrance of the compound.”

Earlier on Wednesday, two chlorine truck bombs were used to attack a local government building, wounding dozens of US and Iraqi soldiers, many of whom suffered chlorine poisoning. “Numerous Iraqi soldiers and policemen are being treated for symptoms such as labored breathing, nausea, skin irritation and vomiting that are synonymous with chlorine inhalation,” said a statement issued by the US military.

There has also been an increase in the number of rocket and mortar attacks on the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad which houses the US military compound, the US embassy and most Iraqi government offices. On Tuesday, one US soldier and one US contractor were killed by exploding mortars. Over the past three days, nine people have also been wounded inside the Zone.

This week, the US Senate voted 50-48 to set a timeline for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by March 31, 2008. With the proposed no-timeline amendment defeated, the Senate will now vote on the full Senate Emergency Appropriations Bill.

However, President Bush remains opposed to any timelines for troop withdrawal and has made it clear that he will veto the legislation.

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