10 anti-al-Qaida sheiks kidnapped after talks
As of Sunday, at least 3,840 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to the Associated Press count.
Baghdad ? Gunmen in Baghdad snatched 10 Sunni and Shiite tribal sheiks from their cars Sunday as they were heading home to Diyala province after talks with the government on fighting al-Qaida, and at least one was later found shot to death.
The bold daylight kidnapping came as the top U.S. commander in Iraq said the threat from the terror network has been “significantly reduced” in the capital.
The two cars carrying the sheiks – seven Sunnis and three Shiites – were ambushed in Baghdad’s predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Shaab about 3:30 p.m., police officials said.
The sheiks were members of the al-Salam Support Council, a group fighting al-Qaida in Iraq in Diyala province.
The sheiks were returning home after attending a meeting with the Shiite-dominated government’s adviser for tribal affairs to discuss coordinating efforts against al-Qaida in Iraq, police and a relative said.
Police found the bullet-riddled body of one of the Sunni sheiks, Mishaan Hilan, about 50 yards away from where the ambush took place, an officer said, adding that the victim was identified after his cell phone was found on him.
A relative of one of the abducted Shiite sheiks blamed Sunni extremists and said the attackers picked a Shiite neighborhood to “create strife between Shiite and Sunni tribes that have united against al-Qaida in the area.”
But, Jassim Zeidan al-Anbaqi said, “this will not happen.”
The well-planned attack was the latest to target anti-al-Qaida tribal leaders and other officials in an apparent bid to intimidate them from joining the U.S.-sponsored grass roots strategy that the military says has contributed to a recent drop in violence.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Sunday that the threat from al-Qaida in several former strongholds in Baghdad has been “significantly reduced” but the group remains “a very dangerous and very lethal enemy.”
He singled out success in what had been some of the most volatile Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad, including Ghazaliyah, Amariyah, Azamiyah and Dora.
“Having said that … al-Qaida remains a very dangerous and very lethal enemy of Iraq,” he said. “We must maintain contact with them and not allow them to establish sanctuaries or re-establish sanctuaries in places where they were before.”
In other violence Sunday, a grave containing 15 bodies, mainly of female students, was found in the al-Ehaimer area of Diyala province, northeast of Baqouba, which is under the control of al-Qaida in Iraq, according to local officials.