Armed robbery at gold market in Baghdad leaves at least 14 civilians dead

By Leila Fadel and Aziz Alwan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BAGHDAD -- A team of about 17 men pulled off a brazen heist at a gold market in the Iraqi capital on Tuesday, leaving at least 14 civilians dead, security officials said.

The armed robbery bore some hallmarks of the fatal attacks carried out by Sunni insurgents in Iraqi markets in recent months. But this time the goal was cash and gold -- not a political statement.

The robbery began when gunmen dressed in civilian clothes drove up to a gold market and raided at least 11 stores in the Bayaa neighborhood of southwest Baghdad, witnesses and security officials said. The robbers were armed with percussion grenades, AK-47 assault rifles, machine guns and weapons capped with silencers.

The assailants opened fire on shop owners, employees and others before leaving with gold and cash, police said. In intense clashes, police killed one of the gunmen and detained two others, according to Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, the spokesman for Baghdad security forces. Two officers were injured. Security forces recovered gold, rifles, guns with silencers, and body armor from a vehicle found abandoned at the scene.

Gen. Hussein Kamal, the top intelligence official at the Interior Ministry, which oversees police, said it was too early to tell who was behind the robbery. He acknowledged some negligence by security forces and said the incident was being investigated. Some Iraqi officials quickly blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq in media reports. The Sunni insurgent group is thought to be strapped for cash and using extortion rings to fund its operations.

The heist reflects the lawlessness of this war-scarred nation as Iraq's fledgling security forces struggle to protect the population from insurgent attacks and violent crime. Before reaching their target, the gunmen probably passed through some of the many checkpoints that slow traffic in the capital.

Security officials responsible for the district were detained and under investigation, Atta said.

Alwan is a special correspondent. Special correspondent K.I. Ibrahim contributed to this report.

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