- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

BAGHDAD (AP) — Assailants slit the throats of a mother and her three children yesterday in southern Iraq, where the family had fled to escape threats that they had cooperated with the Americans.

The mother’s sister was also slain in the savage attack, which occurred in an apartment in the southern city of Basra, police said. Five other family members were rescued before they bled to death.

Officials said the family had fled Baghdad for Basra after receiving threats for cooperating with U.S. forces.

The officials gave no further details and spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals by sectarian militias that have infiltrated Basra’s police.

Sunni leaders, meanwhile, said 20 Sunnis who work for a government organization that maintains mosques and shrines of that Muslim sect were abducted in two areas of Baghdad.

The organization announced it was suspending its work for a week to protest the kidnapping and demanded its employees be freed.

The head of the organization, a major institution among the country’s Sunni community, blamed “militias in official uniforms” for the wave of kidnappings.

The kidnapping occurred as part of sectarian violence that escalated after the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in Samarra in February and a July 1 car bombing that killed 66 persons in the Shi’ite district of Sadr City.

In a joint statement yesterday, America’s two top officials in Iraq deplored the surge in sectarian violence and called on the Iraqi people to unite against “the terrorists and death squads.”

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George W. Casey also called on Iraq’s leaders “to take responsibility and pursue reconciliation not just in words, but through deeds as well.”

The statement reflected U.S. disappointment that the national unity government, which took office May 20, has faltered in its attempts to win public trust, calm sectarian strive and persuade Sunni-led insurgents to lay down their weapons.

Instead, the situation in Iraq has deteriorated.

On Tuesday, the United Nations said nearly 6,000 civilians were slain across Iraq in May and June, about 100 persons per day.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, accused al Qaeda in Iraq of targeting civilians because it is afraid to face Iraqi security forces. He vowed the attacks would not undermine his efforts to achieve national reconciliation.

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