By Joshua Partlow and Josh White
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 13, 2006; A20
BAGHDAD, July 12 -- Gunmen kidnapped a group of people in the parking lot of a bus station on Wednesday and killed 22 of them, according to Iraqi police and military officials. The execution-style slayings occurred on the same day Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited Iraq and stressed the need to stem the sectarian violence that has killed scores of civilians in recent days.
The early morning raid took place in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. The Iraqi military said four people were rescued but that the other captives had been killed by the time Iraqi soldiers arrived on the scene.
An Iraqi commander, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Awad, told state-run television that the victims were Shiite Muslims, but police said their identities had not been determined, the Associated Press reported.
The attack was the deadliest single incident on a day when at least 45 people were killed by bombings, slayings and gunfire throughout Iraq. Wednesday was the fourth day of intensified sectarian killings that began Sunday when Shiite militiamen raided a Sunni Arab neighborhood in Baghdad and killed at least 50 residents.
Rumsfeld, in Iraq for a day-long visit, and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said U.S. and allied forces in the country were focusing on ways to reduce sectarian fighting. Both said the best solution would be a combination of stronger Iraqi security forces and more robust political efforts to bring the country's factions together.
"There certainly has been an upsurge in sectarian violence," Rumsfeld told reporters en route to Iraq from Kandahar, Afghanistan. "There's no question but that they're trying to incite a civil war, and they have been for a long time, and they've failed so far."
Rumsfeld urged Iraq's Shiite-led government to continue efforts to reconcile with the Sunni Arab minority while also working to disarm Shiite militias. "They're going to have to persuade as many people as possible that it's in their interest to support the government and participate in the political process," Rumsfeld said. "And anyone who doesn't want to, they're going to have to go find and do something about."
Casey expressed concern about the rise of death squads targeting civilians on the streets. Although some of the recent violence, Casey said, is a backlash by Sunni insurgents "trying to demonstrate that they are still relevant" after the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, "what we are seeing now as a counter to that is death squads, primarily from Shia extremist groups that are retaliating against civilians."
Casey said more U.S. troops might be needed in Baghdad to combat the violence, but both he and Rumsfeld said it was too early to say whether U.S. force levels across Iraq would shrink or grow in coming months. Defense officials have said they would like troop levels to drop from 129,000 to about 100,000 by the end of the year.
Rumsfeld told about 500 American troops at a town hall-style meeting at Camp Anaconda, near Balad, where he arrived in Iraq early Wednesday, that about 267,000 members of Iraqi security forces are trained, equipped and gaining combat experience. He said, however, that "for some period of time" U.S. forces will have to be the Iraqis' "enablers" as the country continues to build a military infrastructure. In response to one soldier's question, Rumsfeld said insurgents know they cannot win on the battlefield so instead are trying to foment anarchy.
During a meeting of parliament, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he was optimistic that the country has enough security forces in place to defeat the insurgents. Iraqi soldiers and police are "in better shape now," he said, while conceding that "we cannot protect every single person in Iraq. We can't protect a woman or a child working in the streets from getting killed."
In Baghdad, meanwhile, a bomb killed nine people and wounded 22 at a restaurant in the southeastern neighborhood of New Baghdad, according to Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Nima of the Interior Ministry operations room. Gunmen raided the al-Mustafa bakery shop in the neighborhood of Saydiah, killing six employees and injuring two other people, Nima said, and a car bomb targeting a police patrol in the violent Adhamiyah neighborhood killed three policemen and injured five.
Special correspondent Naseer Mehdawi contributed to this report.