BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – At least 25 people have been executed gangland-style in Iraq’s third-largest city this week, with residents gunned down in ones and twos and bodies found scattered throughout Mosul.
Elsewhere, five U.S. troops were killed in operations south and west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said Thursday, and police stormed a farm and freed 17 victims of a factory kidnapping.
Mosul, 225 miles (362 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, has a mixed Kurdish and Sunni Arab population and a tradition of bad blood. The Kurds, who are largely Sunni Muslim but not Arab, have formed a prosperous autonomous region nearby after decades of oppression and mass killings under the Sunni Arab minority that ran Iraq until Saddam Hussein was ousted three years ago.
Police said they were not sure if the attacks were carried out by the Sunni Arab-led insurgency, common criminals or sectarian death squads. Increasing numbers of Iraqi deaths over the past months have been attributed to revenge killings carried out by Shiite-backed militia organizations or Sunni Arabs who have banded together in retribution.
The outburst of killings was first reported Tuesday morning when police found the bodies of a husband and wife, both Kurds, shot to death in eastern Mosul, according to police Capt. Ahmed Khalil. Before the day was out, 10 people were either killed in shootings or found dead.
The killings persisted Wednesday, with eight people, including a child and a college student, shot to death by nightfall. The violence continued Thursday, said police Brig. Abdel-Hamid Khalf, with a policeman killed in a firefight with gunmen early in the day and six civilians shot to death before sunset.
The police raid north of Baghdad that freed the 17 captives came a day after the mass kidnapping, believed to have been organized by Sunni extremists at the close of a factory shift.
Initial reports said as many as 85 people, including women who had taken their children to work, were initially taken. But Industry Minister Fowzi Hariri told state-run Iraqiya TV on Thursday that 64 people were abducted, two of whom were killed trying to escape. Thirty people, mainly women and children, were freed shortly after the kidnapping, leaving 15 still believed in captivity.
A National Security Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, told The Associated Press that several insurgents holding the kidnap victims were captured during the raid.
Police raided the farm on a tip from a kidnap victim who said he was freed after showing his captors a fake ID with a Sunni tribal family name. “As we were leaving the factory we were stopped by gunmen. They got on our buses and told us to put our heads down. Then they took us to a poultry farm,” said the man who was released. He refused to allow use of his name, fearing retribution.
“One of the gunmen told us to stand in one line and then asked the Sunnis to get out of the line. That’s what I did. They asked me to prove that I am a Sunni, so I showed the forged ID and three others did the same. They released us,” the man said. The workers were grabbed as they boarded company buses for the trip home after work at the al-Nasr General Complex, a former military plant that now makes metal doors, windows and pipes. The plant is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the capital.
The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization for insurgent groups, claimed in an internet posting that it had killed 81 workers who had been “building a new American base.”
It was unclear if the group was referring to the same people. There was no way to verify the authenticity of the statement, posted on a Web site that often hosts insurgent statements and videos. The same group claimed it kidnapped and beheaded two U.S. soldiers last weekend.
The statement came after an unconfirmed report from the National Security Ministry that 120 people had been kidnapped at Taji and that 60 had been shot. The source, who asked not to be named for security reasons, claimed that the bodies had been thrown into a nearby river.
There has been rampant sectarian violence in the region, where tit-for-tat kidnappings and revenge killings are common, but nothing on the scale of Wednesday’s abduction. The al-Nasr plant is between Baghdad and Taji, a predominantly Sunni Arab area.
The military said the four Marines were killed Tuesday in Anbar province, three of them in a roadside bombing and a fourth in a separate operation. A soldier died Wednesday south of the capital, the military said, giving no further details.
At least 2,512 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians.
In other parts of the country Thursday, police reported 13 other deaths tied to insurgent or death squad attacks, including six bodies that floated to the surface of the Tigris River in Kut, a city 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad.
Nine days into the security crackdown on Baghdad that includes hundreds of checkpoints and an expanded curfew, the capital was relatively quiet. Police reported only two deaths related to insurgent or sectarian attacks. The victims died when a bomb strapped to a motorcycle exploded in a market. At least 25 people were wounded, police Capt. Jamil Hussein said.
In violence Friday, according to police: Gunmen killed an engineer who worked at Baghdad airport in a drive-by-shooting in western Baghdad. Police discovered the bodies of four men who had been handcuffed and shot. The dead men, all between 30 and 25, were found in the north Baghdad district of Kazimiyah. A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in southern Baghdad volatile Dora neighborhood killed a police officer and wounded four others. Police found the body of a man who had been shot in the head and chest in central Baghdad just after dawn. The bodies of two women in their mid-20s who had been shot in the head were found in an eastern Baghdad drainage canal.