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Gunmen Target Baghdad Firm, Killing 8 Workers

Times Staff Writer

Men dressed as police commandos Wednesday killed eight employees of an electronics import company in an upscale neighborhood of Baghdad, the latest in a wave of strikes against businesses in the Iraqi capital.

Interior Ministry officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media, said that witnesses who survived the attack on the Ibtikar trading company provided this account: The assailants drove up in two Mercedeses and a third car about 11 a.m. and stormed the building. The gunmen gathered the employees in one room and shot them with automatic rifles.

Three young women and five men were killed. Six wounded workers were taken from the company’s office in a large house to Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad.

The attack stood out among the many acts of violence here because it occurred in the Dawoodi neighborhood, a modestly wealthy area of town where embassies and other international missions are located. The district has seen kidnappings, but not attacks of this scale.

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The officials said the assailants were wearing the familiar green camouflage uniforms of the Interior Ministry’s Majhaweer, an elite force that has taken the lead in a number of operations against insurgents in and around Baghdad.

The attack by uniformed gunmen underscored one of the major issues here -- violence that appears linked to the security services.

The question of who will control Iraq’s security forces is a major point of contention in talks aimed at forming a new government. Those negotiations were put on hold Wednesday as Shiite Muslim and Sunni Arab blocs tried to work out their differences.

Since the Feb. 22 bombing of the Shiite Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraq has been convulsed by a wave of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites. The bloodshed has brought the nation to the brink of all-out civil war.

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Sunni leaders have accused the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry of operating death squads that have been involved in many of those attacks.

But police and army uniforms have been stolen and used by insurgents and by criminal gangs to bluff their way past guards in a number of attacks, officials said.

Sunni parties, mistrustful of the Shiite-dominated police, want the police and armed forces to be under the control of a Sunni deputy prime minister, who would report to a Shiite prime minister. But Shiites, who are a majority and now have political power after decades of Sunni domination, don’t want to yield any authority.

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish negotiator, said the government talks had not broken down over that issue.

Sounding less optimistic, Shiite spokesman Haider Abadi said the Sunni proposal was unconstitutional. “The prime minister is the head of the armed forces, and the security issues can’t be handed over to someone else,” he said.

Othman and Abadi said the parties would probably return today to the negotiating table.

In other incidents across Iraq, two policemen and two commandos were killed in the Jihad neighborhood of Baghdad when gunmen opened fire on their vehicles.

A roadside bomb near Abu Ghraib, on the old highway between Fallouja and Baghdad, struck an Iraqi army convoy, killing one soldier.

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A policeman died in another roadside bomb attack, this one targeting a police convoy patrolling between Mashtal and Baladiyat, east of Baghdad. Two other policemen and three civilians were injured.

And three people were killed in Nasiriya by a roadside bomb placed outside the home of a reporter for Radio Sawa, hospital officials said. The reporter, Mohammed Noor, was not injured, officials said.

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Times staff writers Zainab Hussein and Shamil Aziz and special correspondent Asmaa Waguih contributed to this report.


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