- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 27, 2006

BAGHDAD — An Iraqi tennis coach and two of his players were fatally shot last week in Baghdad because they were wearing shorts, authorities said yesterday, reporting the latest in a series of recent attacks attributed to Islamic extremists.

A U.S. Marine AH-1 Cobra helicopter, meanwhile, crashed yesterday, and its two crew members were missing in Anbar province, a volatile area west of the capital. Hostile fire was not suspected as the cause of the crash, the U.S. military said.

In the Baghdad incident, gunmen stopped a car carrying the Sunni Arab coach and two Shi’ite players, asked them to step out and then shot them, said Manham Kubba, secretary-general of the Iraqi Tennis Union.

Extremists had distributed leaflets warning people in the mostly Sunni neighborhoods of Saidiyah and Ghazaliyah not to wear shorts, police said.

“Wearing shorts by youth are prohibited because it violates the principles of Islamic religion when showing forbidden parts of the body. Also women should wear the veil,” the leaflets said.

No one claimed responsibility for the slayings.

Sunni cleric Eid al-Zoubayi denounced the attack.

“Islamic religion is an easy religion, and it allows wearing sport shorts as long as they don’t show the forbidden parts of the body, so the acts that are targeting the sport are criminal,” he said.

It was the second incident involving athletes in just over a week. Fifteen members of a tae kwon do team were kidnapped in western Iraq while driving to a training camp in neighboring Jordan on May 17.

More than 30 people were killed in attacks across Iraq yesterday, including four who died when a bomb in a parked car exploded near a busy bus station in southern Baghdad. Seven persons also were wounded in the blast, which bloodied passersby and damaged a local restaurant.

The Marine helicopter went down while on a maintenance test flight, and search-and-rescue efforts were under way for the missing crew members, the U.S. command said.

“We are using all the resources available to find our missing comrades,” said a Marine spokesman, Lt. Col. Bryan Salas.

The U.S. military also reported that a Marine was killed Friday by “enemy action” in Anbar province. The death raised to at least 2,466 the number of U.S. military personnel who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Iraqi politicians continued to bicker over candidates for the key Defense and Interior ministries, leaving Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government incomplete a week after it assumed office.

“We hope the agreement will be reached within two or three days,” Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi told reporters. “I think that to linger and take some time in choosing the ministers is better than rushing into it.”

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