- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 22, 2007

BAGHDAD — Gunmen executed 23 members of an ancient religious sect in northern Iraq yesterday after stopping their bus and separating out followers of other faiths, while at least 20 persons were killed in car bombings in the capital.

In Egypt, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Egypt’s leader to ignore widespread reports that the country is suffering “a civil or sectarian war.”

He also said he would halt the construction by U.S. forces of a barrier that would separate a Sunni enclave from surrounding Shi’ite areas in Baghdad.

In the northern Iraq attack, armed men stopped a bus which was carrying workers from a textile factory in Mosul to their hometown of Bashika, which has a mixed population of Christians and Yazidis — members of a primarily Kurdish sect that worships an angel figure considered to be the devil by some Muslims and Christians.

The gunmen checked the passengers’ identification cards, then asked all Christians to get off the bus, said police Brig. Mohammed al-Wagga. With the Yazidis still inside, the gunmen drove them to eastern Mosul, where they were lined up along a wall and fatally shot, Brig. al-Wagga said.

After the killings, hundreds of Yazidis took to the streets of Bashika. Shops were shuttered and many Muslim residents closed themselves in their homes, fearing reprisal attacks. Police set up additional checkpoints across the city.

Bashika is about 80 percent Yazidi, 15 percent Christian and 5 percent Muslim.

Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a police spokesman for Ninevah province, said the executions were in response to the killing two weeks ago of a Yazidi woman who had recently converted to Islam after she fell in love with a Muslim and ran off with him. Her relatives had disapproved of the match and dragged her back to Bashika, where she was stoned to death, he said.

A grainy video showing gruesome scenes of the woman’s killing was distributed on Iraqi Web sites in recent weeks, but its authenticity could not be confirmed.

In Baghdad, two suicide car bombs exploded within moments of each other in Baiyaa, a mixed Sunni-Shi’ite area in the western part of the capital. The first driver raced through a police checkpoint guarding the station and detonated his vehicle just outside the two-story building, while the second bomber aimed his explosives at the checkpoint’s concrete barriers, police said.

Police said 13 persons died — five policemen and eight civilians. The wounded included 46 policemen and 36 civilians.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, a parked car bomb exploded in the Sadiyah neighborhood, killing seven civilians and wounding 42, police said. A roadside bomb then struck a police patrol coming to check on the blast, killing one officer and wounding two others.

In all, at least 72 persons were killed or found dead in Iraq yesterday, including 24 bullet-riddled bodies and two brothers who were fatally shot in Fallujah, where the chairman of the city’s council was assassinated on Saturday.

The U.S. military also reported the deaths of three troops. Two were killed in attacks in Baghdad on Saturday, while the third died from an unidentified noncombat cause that was still under investigation, the military said.

Mr. al-Maliki was in Egypt’s capital to drum up support among Arab leaders for his government and its efforts to reduce widespread sectarian violence in Iraq. He met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for about 45 minutes and later held talks with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.


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