BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Dozens of suspected Sunni insurgents attacked a small town near Baghdad at dusk on Thursday and killed at least 25 people and possibly many more, police and a local politician said on Friday.
Police recovered 21 bodies, mostly of Shi’ite Muslim migrant workers, from a brick factory at Nahrawan, municipal council leader Alaa Abdul Sahab al-Lamy told Reuters. A further four were brought from the local power station, he added.
It was one of the bloodiest incidents after 10 days of sectarian violence that have pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war following the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine on Feb. 22. Last week, 47 people were killed near Nahrawan after attending what police said was a demonstration calling for Muslim unity.
Police and Interior Ministry sources in Baghdad said they could not confirm a total death toll but said nine guards at the power station were killed along with “many” factory workers.
“This was a sectarian attack,” Lamy said, adding that police feared further bodies might still be found at the brick plant.
“We understand there are bodies everywhere around the factory, in the fields,” one Interior Ministry official in Baghdad said. “The police cannot retrieve them all because they afraid to venture in without more military protection.”
More than 50 gunmen, believed to be Sunni insurgents allied to al Qaeda and based in Diyala province, entered the town between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., several police sources said.
They attacked and destroyed the local power plant, killing nine people, before U.S. and Iraqi army units responded. As the gunmen withdrew, they entered the brick factory and began killing people working there.
A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said he was unaware of the incident.
Lamy said that of the 21 people whose bodies had been recovered from the factory and brought to the police station in Nahrawan, one was a woman and three were children, including a girl aged about six.
Many of the dead had a single bullet wound to the forehead.
Many brick factories in the area, where Sunni insurgents have been very active, employ Shi’ite workers from southern Iraq.