By Nelson Hernandez and Bassam Sebti
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 19, 2006
BAGHDAD, Jan. 18 -- A wave of attacks by gunmen and insurgents killed 50 people across the country, U.S. and Iraqi authorities reported Wednesday, shattering the relative peace that had settled over the country since last week's four-day Muslim holiday.
Gunmen ambushed a heavily defended convoy of telecommunications workers traveling the streets of Baghdad on Wednesday morning, killing 10 security guards and kidnapping two African engineers, an Iraqi government spokesman said.
It was unclear who had seized the engineers working for the Iraqna cell phone company, said Col. Mohammed Ahmed Nuaimi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. Nuaimi said the ambush occurred in Baghdad's western Nafaq al-Shurta district, near a Sunni Arab-dominated area of the city.
A report by the Associated Press, citing a statement by Iraqna, said that the kidnapped engineers were from Malawi and Madagascar.
In the southern city of Basra, a roadside bomb hit a convoy carrying private security contractors Wednesday afternoon, killing two American civilians and seriously wounding a third, the U.S. Embassy's spokesman said in a statement. The spokesman said the incident was under investigation and would not give the names of those killed until their relatives could be informed.
Another roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi police patrol in the town of Saadiya, east of Baghdad, killing three officers and one civilian, according to a spokesman for the Diyala provincial police.
And a group of gunmen attacked a police station in Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, a spokesman for the Babil provincial police force said. Two officers were killed and four were wounded in the ensuing firefight, police Capt. Muthanna Ahmed said. Police captured three of the gunmen, one of whom was a foreigner, Ahmed said.
More than half of the day's death toll came from the discovery of Iraqis who had been bound and shot in the head, then left in deserted areas to be found by police.
Baghdad police found seven people, believed to be Shiites, who had been executed in the Wahdah neighborhood, said Nuaimi, the Interior Ministry spokesman. He said he believed that the victims had been kidnapped from the same area a few days earlier.
In the town of Nibaei in northern Iraq, police found the bodies of 25 others, a police spokesman there said. A witness who had escaped the massacre told police that armed men had set up checkpoints and scanned the identity cards of passersby with the goal of killing police officers and other government employees, said Lt. Raed Mahdi Khazraji of the Salahuddin provincial police force.
Also, government health officials announced Wednesday that they were investigating the death of a girl who suffered from symptoms similar to those associated with the strain of avian influenza that has killed 80 people worldwide.
Najm Abdullah, a physician who heads the government's health office in Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq, said a 15-year-old girl who had died near Iraq's border with Turkey and Iran would be tested for the virus.
"It is not proved" that the girl had bird flu, Abdullah said in an interview, but he said he expected the disease to spread to Iraqi towns near the Turkish border. Turkey has reported 21 confirmed cases of the disease, apparently contracted by people who handled infected chickens.
"We have excellent precautions to face the bird flu in Iraq," said Qasim Yahiya, a Health Ministry spokesman. He said that Iraq had stopped importing poultry from Turkey and was planning to purchase and destroy all chickens in the area within 20 miles of the Turkish border.
The kidnapped sister of Interior Minister Bayan Jabr was freed Wednesday, according to a spokesman for the ministry. He would not say how authorities had secured the woman's release.
There was little news, however, in the case of Jill Carroll, the kidnapped American reporter. She was seen in a video released by her captors on Tuesday night, and they threatened to kill the 28-year-old freelance writer in three days unless authorities released all female prisoners held in Iraq.
U.S. military officials said that coalition forces were holding eight female detainees. The BBC reported that six of the eight had been released, quoting an Iraqi Justice Ministry spokesman, but a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday night that all eight were still in custody.
Special correspondents Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Hassan Shammari in Baqubah contributed to this report.