Monday, September 26, 2005

BAGHDAD — Terrorists in Iraq yesterday dragged five Shi’ite Muslim schoolteachers and their driver into a classroom, lined them up against a wall and gunned them down, an illustration of sectarian divisions ahead of a crucial constitutional referendum.

The shooting was a rare attack on a school amid Iraq’s relentless violence, and it was particularly stunning since the gunmen targeted teachers in a school where the children were mainly Sunnis.

Separately, a suicide attack and roadside bombings killed 10 Iraqis and three American troops, bringing to at least 52 the number of persons killed in the past two days.

The Iraqi and U.S. governments have warned that Sunni Arab insurgents are likely to increase their attacks ahead of the Oct. 15 constitutional vote.

Shi’ite leaders have called on their followers to refrain from revenge attacks against Sunnis, fearing a civil war could result.

But in one of the first public calls for individual Shi’ites to take action, a prominent Shi’ite cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Yaaqubi, issued a religious edict yesterday allowing his followers to “kill terrorists before they kill.”

“Self-restraint does not mean surrender,” he said.

Earlier this month, al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, declared an “all-out war” on Shi’ites and vowed to kill anyone participating in the referendum.

There have been few attacks on schools in Iraq, which have little protection — though children are constant witnesses to, and sometimes victims of, the violence.

Classes had just ended at the Al Jazeera Elementary School in the village of Muelha, 30 miles south of Baghdad, when the shooting took place at about 1:15 p.m.

Police Capt. Muthana Khaled said that as five Shi’ite teachers got into a minivan, two cars pulled up carrying gunmen disguised as police officers.

The nine gunmen forced the teachers and their driver out of the van in front of students who were milling outside the school. The attackers dragged the six men into an empty classroom and fatally shot them, Capt. Khaled said. The attackers escaped.

Farther south, gunmen yesterday assassinated a senior Shi’ite official from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) in the town of Qurna, near Basra, said Haytham al-Hussein, an aide to the leader of the party, one of the main factions in the government.

The gunmen kidnapped Azhar Qassem Abdul Wahid as he was leaving SCIRI headquarters, police Capt. Mushtaq Kadhim said.

In Baghdad, a suicide car bomber attacked a police checkpoint guarding the Oil Ministry and several other government buildings, killing at least seven police officers and three persons on a bus and wounding 36.

A roadside bombing in western Baghdad killed two American soldiers, and a third U.S. soldier was killed in a bombing about 50 miles southeast of the capital, the military said. The deaths raised to 1,917 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

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