US reinforcements take up positions in Baghdad amid new warning of civil war

news2_6_8.jpgBAGHDAD (AP) — US soldiers sent to reinforce security in Baghdad were seen for the first time on the streets of the capital Saturday as Iraqi police used loudspeakers to reassure people that the Americans were there to protect them.

But at least 21 people were killed or found dead Saturday, most in the capital. They included a Shiite couple and their two daughters abducted earlier Saturday in Baghdad’s mostly Sunni area of Dora, police said.

A US soldier died Saturday of “non-hostile” causes in Anbar province west of Baghdad, the US military said without elaborating.

With Sunni-Shiite killings on the rise, about 3,700 soldiers of the Army’s 172nd Stryker Brigade were sent from northern Iraq to bolster US and Iraqi security forces that were struggling to contain the violence in Baghdad.

Several Stryker armoured fighting vehicles were seen Saturday in Baghdad’s mostly Sunni neighbourhood of Ghazaliyah, one of the most dangerous areas of the city.

Iraqi police used loudspeakers to encourage residents to reopen their shops and go about their business normally because the soldiers would protect them.

US commanders hope the presence of heavily armed Americans will intimidate sectarian death squads believed behind many of the killings and reassure Iraqis — especially Sunni Arabs — that they will be protected by Iraq’s heavily Shiite security forces.

Moving the Stryker brigade to Baghdad, however, meant drawing down — at least temporarily — the US military presence in northern Iraq. The brigade was based in Mosul but had subordinate units scattered over a wide area, including routes used by foreign fighters entering the country from Syria.

Fears of trouble in the north rose Friday when a car bomb killed a police colonel in Mosul, triggering a firefight between police and insurgents. Iraq’s defence ministry and police announced that 55 suspected insurgents had been captured around Mosul after the violence Friday.

A curfew remained in effect for a second day in the eastern part of Mosul while police searched for insurgents who escaped.

Nevertheless, provincial Gov. Duraid Mohammad Kashmoula said he was pleased with the performance of the Iraqi police, who fled their posts during a November 2004 insurgent uprising but stood their ground Friday.

The US command believed the risks of trouble in the north were worth taking considering the grave security situation in Baghdad where sectarian tensions run high.

Sectarian tensions have soared in the capital since the February 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, which triggered reprisal attacks against Sunnis.

Last Thursday, the top US commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, told a Senate committee that sectarian tension were “probably as bad as I have seen it” in Baghdad and if not stopped “it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.” Echoing the general’s assessment, Adnan Dulaimi, head of the main Sunni alliance in the Iraqi parliament, warned that the country is in danger of falling into the “circle of a civil war.” In a statement posted on a Sunni website, Dulaimi said that “events that took place” since the new government took office May 20 “confirm that Iraq will fall in the circle of a civil war.” Dulaimi said sectarianism is being “fed by neighbouring countries that do not want stability in Iraq.”

He did not elaborate although many Sunnis point to Iran’s ties to Shiite factions.

The bodies of the Shiite family were found Saturday evening in Dora, police 1st Lt. Maithem Abdel-Razaq said.

The couple and their two daughters were seized by gunmen early Saturday at their home in the southwestern Baghdad neighbourhood, also among Baghdad’s most dangerous.

Police also found 13 bodies Saturday, four in the Tigris River, 40 kilometres south of Baghdad and the rest in several neighbourhoods of the capital. All had been  shot, and most showed signs of torture, police said.

Two mortar shells landed on a house in southern Baghdad late Saturday, killing one person and injuring two others, police said. Two lower-ranking members of Saddam Hussein’s former regime were shot  dead  in  separate incidents Saturday, police said.

In Baqouba, 55 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, two bombs exploded within minutes Saturday, the first destroying a grocery store and the second targeting police and rescuers who rushed to the scene. Eight people were wounded, police said.

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