MOSUL, Iraq (AFP) – Gunmen massacred 45 men in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar in an apparent Shiite reprisal for deadly bombings that killed 75 people there, officials said on Wednesday.
“We received 45 bodies of handcuffed and blindfolded men from al-Wahada neighbourhood overnight. They were killed yesterday just after the bomb,” a doctor at Tal Afar hospital told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The shootings and bombings underscore the raging Sunni-Shiite sectarian warfare that has gripped Iraq alongside a Sunni-led insurgency against the Shiite-led government and its US backers.
Two bomb attacks in Tal Afar killed 75 and wounded 190 on Tuesday in Shiite districts of the mixed Sunni-Shiite town, which is witnessing its deadliest violence since US President George W. Bush in March 2006 held up the onetime militant stronghold as a model for efforts to create a stable Iraq.
In the biggest attack, a suicide bomber tricked soldiers into believing he was bringing in food supplies to a Shiite area where he detonated his cargo of flour and explosives into a crowd of waiting men and women.
Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Ahmed Salah, a spokesman for the Iraqi army in Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province that is home to Tal Afar, confirmed there had been a “reprisal act”.
“A violent incident happened (on Tuesday) and a reprisal act happened in al-Wahada, which is in the south of the town, just after the bombings,” the officer said.
“The situation is under control right now and we have started an investigation into the incident.”
The Iraqi army has slapped a strict curfew on the town, deployed armoured vehicles in downtown Tal Afar and banned even police from moving, an official said, also on condition of anonymity.
The apparent style of killing by handcuffing and blindfolding the victims indicated that the brutal slaughtering was the work of Shiite gunmen, known for such execution-style slaying of Sunni Arabs.
US officials also announced on Wednesday the deaths of two more servicemen and a government contractor in Iraq.
The contractor, a US citizen, died on Tuesday after being wounded a day earlier by rocket fire near the embassy in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone, the seat of the US mission and the Iraqi parliament, US charge d’affaires Daniel Speckhard said.
One soldier was killed on Tuesday and another wounded in a separate indirect fire attack also in the Green Zone, the military said Wednesday.
A US marine also died on Tuesday after being attacked during combat operations in the western Sunni province of Anbar, it said.
The latest casualties brought the military’s losses in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion to 3,237, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures.
US Democrats, meanwhile, scored a victory in the Senate in the fight to withdraw US troops from Iraq with the Senate voting 50-48 against a Republican amendment that would have removed the pullout timetable.
Democrats beat an attempt by Bush’s Republicans to strip a provision in a war spending bill that would set a March 31, 2008 deadline to withdraw troops from Iraq.
“Today was a significant step forward in our efforts to change course in Iraq and makes America more secure,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
“The president must change course, and this legislation gives him a chance to do that,” he said.
Bush has already stated that he will veto the bill if it stipulates a timeline for troop withdrawal.