BAGHDAD (AP) – Two Shiite brothers kidnapped just weeks after their family returned to a mainly Sunni area were found shot to death Saturday, police said.
Iraqi troops, meanwhile, rounded up dozens of suspects accused of having links to Shiite militias, including 20 policemen, during a U.S.-backed military operation in the southern city of Amarah, officials said.
The bullet-riddled bodies of the two men were discovered in the Tahrir district in Baqouba, a former al-Qaeda stronghold northeast of Baghdad, where violence has dropped since local Sunnis turned against the terror group.
Ali Zaid Owayid al-Shimmari, 27, and his brother, Ammar, 23, had been kidnapped earlier this week, according to a police official who read the investigative report at Baqouba police headquarters.
The U.S. military in northern Iraq confirmed the two men’s bodies had been found and said Iraqi police were investigating.
The brothers and their families were among Shiites who fled Baqouba last year amid kidnappings and execution killings by al-Qaeda linked militants.
Baqouba, the capital of Diyala province 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, was a hotbed of Sunni Arab extremism until U.S. and Iraqi soldiers gained control of key areas.
Shiites have been encouraged by local officials to take advantage of the security gains and return home. But the brothers’ killings were the latest in a series of attacks showing the continuing dangers.
The men and their families had moved to a Shiite enclave outside Baqouba after a building they owned was bombed a year ago, the police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information. They decided to return about two months ago.
Meanwhile south of Baghdad, Iraqi troops detained 14 suspects and seized weapons from schools and mosques Saturday, meeting no resistance in the Shiite militia stronghold of Amarah, the Defense Ministry said.
The 14 detained men are suspected of involvement in militia activity in Amarah, the hub of networks smuggling weapons from Iran to Shiite extremists, said Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari.
A security official in Amarah, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t supposed to release the information, said 20 policemen accused of links to the Mahdi Army militia of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also had been detained.
Sadrist lawmakers accused the government of unfairly targeting the movement ahead of provincial elections, expected in the fall. Tensions rose Thursday when the city’s mayor, an al-Sadr follower, was detained. “At the time when ‘Operation Promise of Peace’ was launched in Amarah, we had hoped it would be as its very name declared,” Sadrist lawmaker Amirah al-Etabi said at a news conference in Baghdad. “But it turned to be a political targeting operation rather than a security operation.” She also criticized security forces for tearing down portraits of al-Sadr and his revered father. “We demand from the prime minister that operation more professional and neutral and that do not target a specific party.” She said.
Iraqi soldiers found posters of al-Sadr in hideouts during weekend operations, backed by U.S. forces, along with bombmaking instructions.
The troops, with helicopters flying overhead, also searched the marshy border area between Amarah and the Iranian border, finding roadside bombs the military believes came from Iran.
The Iraqi troops were the first to reach the border area since 2003, said Brig. Gen. Numan Dakhil Jawad, the commander of the Iraqi quick reaction force.
“The arrival of our forces here is proof for the gunmen and lawbreakers that the government is present everywhere, even such a far-reaching away,» he told AP Television News.
The operation in Amarah, 320 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of Baghdad, is the third launched by Iraq’s prime minister against Shiite militias in recent months as he seeks to assert government control. He also has cracked down on Sunni extremists in the northern city of Mosul.
U.S. troops also detained 25 suspected insurgents during raids Friday and Saturday targeting al-Qaeda in Iraq, the military said. Two of the men detained were wanted for alleged ties to Baghdad bombing networks.