By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2007
BAGHDAD, April 22 -- The bad blood began to rise a few months ago in northern Iraq with the kind of interfaith love so reviled by Iraq's religious extremists: A Muslim woman eloped with a member of the tiny Yazidi religious sect.
It erupted in a massacre Sunday, police said, when Sunni gunmen in Mosul hijacked a busload of mostly Yazidi workers from a nearby town and shot and killed 23 of them, one by one.
The mass killing was the latest attack on religious minorities in Iraq, where human rights groups say Christians, Jews and members of other, smaller sects are often killed, persecuted or forced to convert by Muslim extremists. Last month in Kirkuk, two elderly Chaldean Catholic nuns were killed by armed men who stormed their house as they slept.
But police said Sunday that the Mosul killings appeared to be rooted not just in religious differences, but also in revenge.
Four months ago, the Muslim woman eloped with the Yazidi man, who was from Shikhan, a Yazidi-majority village outside Mosul, said Mohammed Abdul Aziz al-Jabouri, the deputy police chief in Mosul. Muslims responded by torching some Yazidi homes in Shikhan, he said.
A few days ago, a Yazidi woman from Beshiqa, a nearby village populated mostly by Yazidis, eloped with a Muslim man and converted to Islam. To punish her, Jabouri said, the woman's family stoned her to death.
On Sunday afternoon, workers from a Mosul textile factory were heading home to Beshiqa when gunmen stopped their bus, police said. After checking passengers' identifications, the gunmen drove them to an isolated Mosul suburb, then lined up 23 of them and shot them to death, said Abdul Kareem al-Kinani, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
It was unclear how many passengers were on the bus. Jabouri said the bus carried 40 passengers and that the gunmen freed 17 Muslims on board and killed the 23 others, all of them Yazidis. Kinani said there were 23 passengers in all, and 20 were Yazidis.
"They don't know the language of negotiation," he said of the killers, who he said were probably members of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. "They only know the language of weapons."
Gasan Salem Alias, 30, leader of the Yazidi Association for Solidarity and Brotherhood in Beshiqa, said the killings had sent a wave of shock and grief through the village, where some residents lost as many as three relatives in the shootings. Burials were scheduled for Monday morning, he said.
Uday Crus, a reporter for a local Yazidi newspaper, warned that the retaliation might not be over.
"We are expecting a strong violence against the Muslims who live in Beshiqa," he said. "Our community is tribal. That means we should take vengeance on the people who committed this terrible tragedy."
The bloodshed came as violence continued in Baghdad, where bombings killed at least 30 people and wounded more than 100, police said.
The deadliest bombing occurred when two suicide car bombers detonated explosives outside a police station in a religiously mixed neighborhood in western Baghdad. The blast killed at least 18 people, reduced nearby buildings to rubble and set fire to several police cars, police said.
Four U.S. soldiers died Saturday, the military reported. One was killed and three others were wounded in a roadside bombing and firefight in southwest Baghdad. Another was killed and one was wounded when their patrol was attacked by small-arms fire in the capital's eastern sector. A rocket or mortar attack on a military base southwest of Baghdad killed one and wounded two. One died in Baghdad of noncombat causes.
South of Baghdad, U.S. airstrikes on what the military described as an al-Qaeda in Iraq meeting spot killed 15 suspected insurgents and led to the arrest of seven others. In Fallujah, U.S. forces conducting a raid killed one person, arrested 19 suspected insurgents and discovered a cache of bomb-making materials, the military said.
Special correspondents Naseer Mehdawi and Waleed Saffar in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.