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Maliki Denies Civil War, Halts Barrier

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By THOMAS WAGNER
The Associated Press
Sunday, April 22, 2007; 8:03 PM

BAGHDAD -- Gunmen shot and killed 23 members of an ancient religious sect in northern Iraq on Sunday after stopping their bus and separating out followers of other faiths while car bombings in the capital killed at least another 20 people.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in Egypt to drum up support among Arab leaders for his Shiite-led government, told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Iraq was not embroiled in a civil or sectarian war. Key Arab leaders pressured him to step up reconciliation efforts to include Sunni insurgents if he expects Arab support.

In the northern Iraq attack, armed men stopped the bus as it was carrying workers from a textile factory in Mosul to their hometown of Bashika, which has a mixed population of Christians and Yazidis _ a primarily Kurdish sect that worships an angel figure considered to be the devil by some Muslims and Christians.

The gunmen checked the passengers' identification cards, then asked all Christians to get off the bus, police Brig. Mohammed al-Wagga said. With the Yazidis still inside, the gunmen drove them to eastern Mosul, where they were lined up along a wall and shot to death, al-Wagga said.

After the killings, hundreds of angry chanting Yazidis took to the streets of Bashika in protest. Shops were shuttered and many Muslim residents closed themselves in their homes, fearing reprisal attacks. Police set up additional checkpoints across the city.

Bashika is about 80 percent Yazidi, 15 percent Christian and five percent Muslim.

Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a police spokesman for Ninevah province, said the executions were in response to the killing two weeks ago of a Yazidi woman who had recently converted to Islam after she fell in love with a Muslim and ran off with him. Her relatives had disapproved of the match and dragged her back to Bashika, where she was stoned to death, he said.

A grainy video showing gruesome scenes of the woman's killing was distributed on Iraqi Web sites in recent weeks, but its authenticity could not be independently confirmed.

In Baghdad, two suicide car bombs exploded within moments of each other in Baiyaa, a mixed Sunni-Shiite area in the western part of the capital. The first driver raced through a police checkpoint guarding the station and exploded his vehicle just outside the two-story building, while the second bomber aimed his explosives at the checkpoint's concrete barriers, police said.

The blasts collapsed nearby buildings, smashing windows and peeling back metal roofs. A man who was among the 82 wounded in Sunday's attack staggered through the wreckage.

"All our belongings and money were smashed and are gone. What kind of life is this? Where is the government?" he asked. "There are no jobs, and things are very bad. Is this fair?"

Iraqi police stations often are the target of attacks by insurgents who accuse the officers of betraying Iraq by working in cooperation with its U.S.-backed Shiite government and U.S. military.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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