BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Drive-by shootings killed 17 people in Iraq on Wednesday, including a provincial official in northern Iraq and two of his bodyguards. The bodies of nine people who apparently had been kidnapped and tortured by death squads also were found.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces killed seven insurgents in two operations outside the capital, and a bomb set fire to an oil pipeline south of Baghdad, officials said.
Drive-by shootings, a common form of killing in Baghdad, often happen so quickly that police can’t tell whether they were motivated by sectarian hatred or personal vendettas.
Insurgents, private militias and petty criminals also have been known to disguise themselves as policemen and soldiers, making it very difficult for Iraqi forces to identify or hunt down the killers.
On Tuesday, bombings and drive-by shootings had killed 41 Iraqis in Baghdad and other areas of the country, as the national unity government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tried once again to find candidates for Iraq’s three security Cabinet ministries who will not be vetoed by the rival political groups in his fragile coalition.
Wednesday’s worst drive-by shooting killed Adel Issa, a member in Diyala provincial council, and two of his bodyguards in their convoy in northern Iraq, said Dr. Mansour Ali at Muqdadiya General Hospital. Issa, a Kurd, is a member of the region’s main Kurdish coalition.
In Baghdad, 10 drive-by shootings killed 14 people from many different walks of life: Hussein Ahmed Rashid, a member of Iraq’s national tennis team and two of his friends; a college student; two day laborers; a police officer; two street vendors; a university professor; two taxis drivers; a builder; and the owner of a grocery store, police said.
Al-Maliki said Monday that his new government will begin next month trying to assume responsibility for the security of some of Iraq’s less violent provinces, with the goal of eventually allowing coalition forces to withdraw from such areas.
U.S. President George W. Bush, facing political pressure at home for American troop cutbacks, said Tuesday that he would make a fresh assessment about Iraq’s needs for U.S. military help now that the new government has taken office in Baghdad.
“We haven’t gotten to the point yet where the new government is sitting down with our commanders to come up with a joint way forward,” Bush said at a news conference in Washington. “However, having said that, this is a new chapter in our relationship. In other words, we’re now able to take a new assessment about the needs necessary for the Iraqis.”
In Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, the prime minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a staunch supporter of Bush, met Wednesday with al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials.
At a news conference afterward, Fogh Rasmussen said he hopes the new Iraqi government can improve security and begin to rebuild the country. He said al-Maliki’s government can count on Denmark’s help. “We will not let the Iraqi people down,” said Fogh Rasmussen.
The leader and his defense minister, Soeren Gade, began their visit to Iraq on Tuesday by visiting the 530 Danish troops based near Basra, a southern city. Fogh Rasmussen is the second world leader to visit Iraq since al-Maliki and his new government of Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds was sworn in on Saturday.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who met with al-Maliki and his Cabinet on Monday, plans to discuss the coalition’s strategy in Iraq during a summit with Bush in Washington this week.
In other violence Wednesday, two roadside bombs wounded nine Iraqis, including two soldiers, in Baghdad, and gunmen killed one Iraqi soldier and wounded two at an Iraqi military highway checkpoint near the a U.S. military base north of Baghdad, officials said.
Baghdad police found the bodies of two Iraqis who had been shot in the head, Hussein said. In Dayera, a rural area about 55 kilometers (35 miles) south of Baghdad, police found seven bodies of Iraqis who had been shot through the head, said police Capt. Muthana Khalid.
On Tuesday, a gunbattle between U.S. forces and insurgents killed four militants and detained two, one of whom was wounded, northwest of Baghdad near Lake Thar Thar, the U.S. command said Wednesday. It said one of the detained insurgents was Sudanese.
In a separate operation Tuesday near Youssifiyah, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Baghdad, U.S. forces searching for a wanted al-Qaeda in Iraq insurgent killed three members of the group who were riding in a vehicle equipped with grenades, small arms, a suicide bomb vest and foreign passports, the U.S. command said.
No U.S. soldiers or Iraqi civilians were hurt during the two operations, the military said. Meanwhile, a bomb explosion set fire to an oil pipeline in Latifiya, 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, said police Capt. Rashid al-Samarie. The pipeline carries oil from a storage area to the Dora refinery in Baghdad, which often is bombed by insurgents.