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Gunmen kill Sunni family of 8 in Iraq

Gunmen killed eight members of a Sunni family, including six women, and kidnapped two others in a tense area northeast of Baghdad where Shiite militiamen still operate, officials said.

world Updated: Jan 24, 2009 08:38 IST

Gunmen killed eight members of a Sunni family, including six women, and kidnapped two others in a tense area northeast of Baghdad where Shiite militiamen still operate, officials said.

The ambush was a grisly example of the dangers still facing Iraqis as the new US administration prepares to withdraw its troops.

The gunmen stormed the al-Karawi family's home late Thursday and shot the eight victims to death in their sleep, according to Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim al-Rubaie, the head of the security headquarters for Diyala province.

He initially said Friday that the dead included two women but later said there were six women, including one who was only 16 years old. The family was poor and had moved to the Maamil village a year ago to work at brick factories in the area, he said. The US military said four men, four women and one child died. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in Iraq where access is limited because of security concerns.

Al-Rubaie declined to speculate on the reason for the attack, saying it was still under investigation.

But Iraqi police officials contacted in the nearby town of Balad Ruz and the provincial capital of Baqouba gave conflicting motives. One said it was a family dispute while another blamed it on Shiite extremists he said still wield influence in the area. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to discuss motives with the media since the case was under investigation.

Such attacks were common during brutal sectarian warfare that peaked in 2006 and 2007 but ebbed after a Shiite militia cease-fire order, a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq and a US troop buildup.

Elsewhere, a bomb hidden inside a traffic police booth exploded Friday in western Baghdad, killing a 7-year-old boy and wounding his mother, according to police and hospital officials. American commanders have warned the security gains are fragile and said a premature withdrawal of U.S. forces could jeopardize the progress made.

US President Barack Obama, who campaigned on a promise to end the war, has asked the Pentagon to plan for "a responsible military drawdown from Iraq."

At least 4,230 members of the US military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The latest was an American soldier who died in a vehicle accident Thursday, the military said.

US and Iraqi officials are hoping provincial elections to be held next week will more equitably redistribute power on a local basis and stem support for violence.

But ethnic and sectarian tensions have been rising ahead of the Jan. 31 vote, which is widely seen as a dress rehearsal for national parliamentary elections later this year.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged voters to go to the polls in large numbers, saying he hoped for a turnout of at least 70 percent.

"The elections are a national and religious obligation," he said Friday during an address to members of his tribe in Baghdad. "The important thing is to vote and to participate in large numbers. We want to be proud and say that the turnout was 70 percent or 80 percent," he added. "This large turnout would send a message to those who claim there is a gap between people and the government and between people and the political process."

The prime minister is not running in the elections for local councils but has thrown his support behind an umbrella group that includes his party and is known as the Coalition of the State of Law.

Al-Maliki acknowledged complaints about the lack of public services, which have sparked heavy criticism of current members of provincial councils as well as his government.

"We know that there are weak points and deficiencies in basic services in the provinces," he said. "It was due to the security situation, but now the situation is better and there is no excuse today for the lack of services and no excuse for not investing the money allocated for each province."

He also expressed confidence in the ability of Iraqi forces to assume responsibility for their own security with the impending withdrawal of the Americans, who must pull out by the end of 2011 according to a security agreement.

"When the American and other foreign forces present in Iraq withdraw from the country, our forces will be able to maintain the security completely and with efficiency," he said. "This withdrawal will take place soon and this is one of the achievements of the government of national unity."