Sunnis urged to defend themselves amid tension
By Aseel Kami
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's biggest Sunni political party called on Sunnis on Tuesday to use all "appropriate means" to defend themselves after police stirred up sectarian tensions with a raid on a Baghdad neighborhood.
The raid by police, whom many Sunnis identify with the newly dominant Shi'ite majority, came as politicians prepared for talks on forming a government of national unity that Washington hopes can heal deep sectarian and ethnic divisions.
It hopes an all-inclusive government will undermine Sunni Arab support for an insurgency that has killed thousands in daily bombings, shootings and kidnappings.
In the latest of a spate of abductions of foreigners in Iraq in recent months, gunmen kidnapped two German engineers outside their workplace in the industrial town of Baiji.
Police said they had found the bodies of eight police recruits, among 42 abducted in a rebel area north of Baghdad last week. They have located the bodies of 19 other recruits in the last few days.
Hundreds of people marched in nearby Samarra to protest about the killings, the latest sign of local Sunni anger at al Qaeda militants they blame for the bloodiest attacks.
Insurgents often attack security force members in their campaign to overthrow the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led government, which they accuse of unfairly targeting Sunnis, a minority who were dominant under Saddam Hussein.
Defense lawyers for the ousted president again raised sectarian and ethnic conflict as grounds for abandoning his trial, already rocked by the resignation of the chief judge; a hearing scheduled on Tuesday was postponed at the last minute -- officially because witnesses did not show up.
Sunni Arab clerics and politicians said police had caused sectarian tensions with a raid on Baghdad's mainly Sunni Toubji district in which two people were reported killed.
"Still the occupiers and the government adopt terrorism and assassination, and they practice racial and sectarian discrimination in various cities of Iraq," the influential Sunni Muslim Scholars' Association said in a statement.
Witnesses said armed men in Interior Ministry uniforms swept into the district before dawn on Monday, pulling men from their houses and taking them away.
One Toubji man told Reuters they had shot dead his uncle.
"At 4 in the morning Interior Ministry commandos attacked our house," Yassir Khalil Muhsin said. "They killed my uncle in front of my eyes. We don't know the reason for that. They shot my mother ... and now she is in hospital."
Police said a number of people had been detained in the sweep for wanted criminals, and denied anyone had been killed.
Sunnis accuse the Interior Ministry, run by a Shi'ite minister, of running sectarian death squads that target their community, a charge the ministry denies.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, the biggest Sunni Arab political grouping, which has committed itself to talks on a coalition government, said the gunmen had "come down like wolves."
"Interior Ministry uniforms are now recognized ... as the uniforms of terrorism," it said in a statement. "We call on people to be aware of these criminal gangs ... and to face them in any appropriate way to defend their souls, honor and wealth."
A senior official of the Sunni Endowment, which administers Sunni mosques, was killed on Monday evening. The group said U.S. forces and the government were failing "to protect people ... and finish off the criminal gangs."
It was not clear whether criminals or insurgents snatched two German engineers in Baiji, a town 180 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad that is home to Iraq's biggest oil refinery and a hotbed of rebel violence and crime.
At least six gunmen, in two unmarked cars, grabbed the two men just outside a detergent plant close to the refinery, police Lieutenant Colonel Kadhem Abbas said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "We have indications that two Germans could have been kidnapped." A government official said the two men appeared to be from the eastern city of Leipzig and were working for an Iraqi firm.
Hundreds of foreigners have been abducted in the anarchy that followed the U.S. overthrow of Saddam, and several are still being held, including American journalist Jill Carroll, four peace activists -- two Canadians, an American and a Briton -- two Kenyan engineers and a Jordanian embassy driver.
(Reporting by Michael Georgy in Baghdad and Ghazwan al-Jibouri in Tikrit)