Iraqi forces are accused of standing idly by while gunmen sprayed grenades and automatic weapons fire in a market south of Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 50 people, most of them Shiites.
Women and children were among the dead and wounded in the assault in Mahmoudiya, hospital officials said. Late Monday, police said they found 12 bodies in different parts of town – possible victims of reprisal killings.
Also Tuesday, the United Nations said that nearly 6,000 civilians were slain across Iraq in May and June, a spike in deaths that coincided with rising sectarian attacks across the country. The report from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq described a wave of lawlessness and crime, including assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, torture and intimidation.
The violence continued today as a car bomb exploded outside a Shiite shrine in Kufa, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, killing 26 people and injuring 25 others, police and witnesses said.
The Mahmoudiya assault occurred a few hundred yards from Iraqi army and police positions, but the troops did not intervene until the attackers were fleeing, several witnesses said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.
The witnesses, including municipal council members, said the attack began when gunmen – presumed to be Sunnis – fired on the funeral of a member of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia, killing nine mourners.
Assailants then drove to the nearby market area in the town 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing three soldiers at a checkpoint and firing rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles at the crowd. After the gunmen sped away, they lobbed several mortar rounds into the neighborhood, the witnesses said.
There were conflicting casualty figures in the market attack, with a Shiite television station reporting more than 70 dead. But local police and Dr. Dawoud al-Taie, director of Mahmoudiya hospital, said 50 people were killed and about 90 were wounded.
In Baghdad, Shiite legislator Jalaluddin al-Saghir said Iraqi military authorities had ignored warnings that weapons were being stocked in a mosque near the market. He also said the local police commander refused to order his men to confront the attackers because they lacked weapons and ammunition.
Dozens of Shiite lawmakers, including followers of radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, stormed out of a parliament session to protest the performance of the security forces.
Mahmoudiya is the same town in which four U.S. soldiers and a former soldier are accused of raping and murdering a teenage girl on March 12. A sixth soldier is accused of failing to report the crime.
Monday’s Mahmoudiya attack was part of a rising tide of tit-for-tat killings and intimidation that many Iraqis fear is the prelude to civil war.
On July 9, Shiite militiamen swept through the mostly Sunni neighborhood of Jihad in western Baghdad, dragging Sunnis from their cars and shooting them in the street. About 50 people were slain.
Faced with such massacres, Iraqis are turning to sectarian militias to protect themselves because government forces cannot. Some Sunnis, who form the backbone of the insurgency, now say privately they want American troops to remain in Iraq to protect them from Shiite militias.