Gunmen kill 15 in Iraq market rampage

Heavily-armed attackers rampaged through an open air market today in a tense, religiously mixed community south of Baghdad, killing 15 people and wounding 25.

Heavily-armed attackers rampaged through an open air market today in a tense, religiously mixed community south of Baghdad, killing 15 people and wounding 25.

Also today, US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez arrived in the Iraqi capital for meetings with Iraqi officials.

President George Bush promised to send more Cabinet officials to Baghdad to help the new government jump-start the economy, a key step toward restoring stability.

The attack occurred about 9am in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad in Iraq’s notorious “triangle of death”, police Capt. Rashid al-Samarraie said. Iraqi soldiers sealed off the area.

It was unclear who carried out the attack, but Mahmoudiya has been a flashpoint of Sunni-Shiite tension and the scene of frequent bombings and shootings. The centre of town has a mostly Shiite population, with Sunnis living in outlying neighbourhoods and surrounding villages.

The deadly raid occurred one day after a suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a café packed with Shiites in northern Iraq, killing 26 people and injuring 22, an Iraqi general said. And in Baghdad, gunmen seized a top Oil Ministry official yesterday, the second major kidnapping in the turbulent Iraqi capital in as many days.

In the South, a British soldier was killed and another wounded during a raid yesterday against a “terrorist suspect” in Basra, the British military said. British troops arrested a top Shiite militia leader in the city, but it was unclear if the two events were linked.

The US military said an American soldier was killed in a roadside bombing in south Baghdad. No further details were released.

The suicide attack occurred about 8.30pm yesterday in the outdoor market in Tuz Khormato, a mostly Turkomen city 130 miles north of Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin said.

The powerful blast collapsed the ceiling of the one-storey café, burying many of the victims, witnesses said. Hours afterward, rescuers were still sifting through the debris looking for the dead or injured. Authorities used mosque loudspeakers to appeal for blood donations.

One of Iraq’s main ethnic groups, Turkomen follow both the Sunni and Shiite traditions of Islam. Amin said Shiites favoured the café because it was near a Shiite mosque. But friction exists among Iraq’s Turkomen and Kurdish populations, and the motive for the attack was unclear.

In Baghdad, gunmen seized Adel Kazzaz, director of the North Oil Co., shortly after he left the Oil Ministry in eastern Baghdad, ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said. They beat his bodyguards and whisked him away, Jihad said.

The government-owned North Oil Co. runs Iraq’s oil fields around the northern city of Kirkuk, and Kazzaz was in the capital for a meeting with ministry officials.

The northern fields have been plagued for years by sabotage attacks on pipelines and other infrastructure. Oil exports were restored last month after a long delay but halted again last week and not expected to resume soon.

The high-profile kidnapping came one day after gunmen abducted the head of Iraq’s National Olympic Committee and 30 other people. Six were set free Sunday in eastern Baghdad, left blindfolded and unharmed, Iraq’s Sport Journalist Union said.

There was no word on the other hostages, including the Olympic National Committee chairman, Ahmed al-Hijiya.

A British military statement said the British soldier was mortally wounded during a raid to arrest terror suspects in a northern Basra neighbourhood. British spokesman Maj. Charlie Burbridge said the operation involved a significant number of troops as well as helicopters and armoured personnel carriers, and that two suspects were detained. He gave no further information.

In Basra, however, police officials said British troops had arrested Sajid Badir, leader of the Shiite-based Mahdi Army in the city. T

In May, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki declared a state of emergency in Basra, the country’s second-largest city and a major oil-producing centre, vowing to wield an “iron fist” to end militia rule there.

Maliki, a Shiite, is under strong pressure to disband the militias, including the Mahdi Army which is run by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The militias are accused of fanning the flames of sectarian violence.

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