- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

BAGHDAD — Shi’ite militants and police enraged by deadly truck bombings went on a shooting rampage against Sunnis in a northwestern Iraqi city yesterday, killing as many as 70 men execution-style in the latest eruption of sectarian violence outside the capital.

The gunmen roamed Sunni neighborhoods in Tal Afar through the night, shooting at residents and homes, police and a local Sunni politician said. Witnesses said relatives of the Shi’ite victims in the truck bombings broke into Sunni homes and killed the men inside or dragged them out and shot them in the streets.

Gen. Khourshid al-Douski, the Iraqi army commander in charge of the area, said 70 were shot in the back of the head and 40 persons were kidnapped. A senior hospital official in Tal Afar, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of security concerns, said 45 men were killed.

Outraged Sunni groups blamed Shi’ite-led security forces for the killings. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office ordered an investigation, and the U.S. command offered to provide assistance.

Ali al-Talafari, a Sunni member of the local Turkomen Front Party, said the Iraqi army had arrested 18 policemen accused in the shooting rampage after they were identified by Sunni families. Shi’ite militiamen also took part, he said.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces shot two suicide truck bombers carrying highly toxic chlorine before they could reach a government complex in Fallujah yesterday, but the explosives detonated, wounding 15 U.S. and Iraqi forces, the American military said.

The chlorine gas attack was the eighth since Jan. 28, when a suicide bomber driving a dump truck filled with explosives and a chlorine tank struck a quick-reaction force and Iraqi police in Ramadi, killing 16 persons.

The revenge killings among Shi’ites in the religiously mixed city 260 miles northwest of Baghdad were triggered by truck bombings in Tal Afar on Tuesday that killed 80 persons and wounded 185.

Gen. al-Douski said one of the trucks exploded after the driver lured people in a predominantly Shi’ite neighborhood to the site by telling them he was distributing free flour from a humanitarian organization.

The wheat-belt city of Tal Afar was an insurgent stronghold until an offensive by U.S. and Iraqi troops in September 2005, when militants fled into the countryside without a fight. Last March, President Bush cited the operation as an example that gave him “confidence in our strategy.”

The city, which is known for tomatoes and cattle, has endured frequent insurgent attacks, despite sand barriers erected around it by U.S. and Iraqi forces. The situation had been calm in recent months and some displaced Shi’ite and Sunni families had started to return to their homes.

Army troops moved into Sunni areas of the city yesterday to stop the violence, confining police to their bases and imposing a curfew. Calm was restored by midafternoon, said Wathiq al-Hamdani, the provincial police chief.

At least 44 persons were killed or found dead elsewhere in Iraq, including four persons in two car bombings in Baghdad.

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