BAGHDAD – Eight members of one Shiite family were killed south of Baghdad on Monday in the worst incident of a bloody day across Iraq that left at least 23 dead. The spate of attacks – and the fact that some of the family were beheaded – raised fears that insurgents are trying to re-ignite sectarian warfare at a time when the country is preparing for critical March elections.
The March 7 election will determine who will oversee the country as the U.S. forces go home, and whether Iraq will be able to overcome the deep sectarian divides that almost destroyed it during the height of the fighting in past years.
A “terrorist group” using guns fixed with silencers shot and beheaded eight members of a single family in the village of Wahda, a mixed Shiite-Sunni village 20 miles south of the capital, the Baghdad security command said in a statement.
Authorities provided no further details about how many were shot, how many beheaded and provided little other information about what they described as an “ugly crime.” But beheadings have been performed before by extremist Sunni insurgents.
“The crime of killing my brother, his wife and six children, five girls and one boy, is an ugly and ruthless crime,” said Mahdi Majid Maryoush al-Qabi. “I call upon the Iraqi government and the prime minister to execute the accused immediately at the crime scene so that they will set an example for others. They are devoid of any human values.”
A Baghdad police officer and witnesses said the family belonged to Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority. The police officer said the family had been displaced from their home during the sectarian fighting in 2006 and had just returned in 2009.
The incident comes as U.S. forces are slated to draw down after the election, but Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. general in Iraq said he could slow troops’ exit if Iraq’s politics are chaotic following the vote.
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