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Gunmen Target Members of Iraqi Religious Minority


Authorities in Iraq say gunmen have killed 23 members of the Yazidi religious minority in the northern part of the country. Meanwhile, twin bombings near a Baghdad police station have killed at least 12 people. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where there is heated debate in the wake of comments by a leading Democrat that the U.S. war effort in Iraq is lost.

News reports from Iraq quote police as saying armed men stopped a bus near Mosul, and ordered Christians and Muslims off the vehicle. The gunmen are said to have taken the remaining passengers to a remote location, where they were lined up and shot.

The killings sparked protests among the region's Yazidi population, described as mainly ethnic Kurds who revere a variety of angel figures.

Meanwhile, two suicide bombers set off explosives near a police station in western Baghdad. In addition to those killed, scores of people, both police and civilians, were wounded. The blasts damaged nearby buildings, blew out windows and buried nearby vehicles in rubble.

Separately, a car bomb detonated in southern Baghdad. Precise casualty figures were not immediately available.

Meanwhile, a stand-off between President Bush and the opposition-led U.S. Congress over funding for the war in Iraq continues. Democrats want a timetable for the eventual withdrawal of most U.S. forces, something President Bush vehemently opposes.

Late last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ignited a political firestorm by suggesting that the United States has lost the war in Iraq, contending that many in the Bush administration have reached the same conclusion.

Republican Senator Arlen Specter denounced Reid's comments on the Fox News Sunday television program.

"Certainly the war is not being won," said Arlen Specter. "But there are still some efforts being made to turn it around, and whether they are successful or not, we will not know. But, for the men and women who are over in Iraq, to have somebody of Senator Reid's stature say that the war is lost is just very, very demoralizing-and not necessary. It does not advance the cause at all."

Also appearing on the program was Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, who sought to clarify Reid's comments on Iraq.

"We could stay three months or three years, and as soon as we leave, the Sunnis and Shi'ites, who have had a 100-year enmity against one another would continue shooting," said Charles Schumer. "The war is not lost - and Harry Reid believes it and we Democrats believe it - if we change our mission and focus it more narrowly on counter-terrorism. Going after an al Qaida camp that might arise in Iraq. That would take many fewer troops, that is what we are pushing the president to do."

President Bush says, despite continued violence in Iraq, he sees signs that an ongoing build-up of U.S. forces in the country is beginning to show signs of progress - a contention strongly contested by many Democrats. The surge of more than 20,000 U.S. troops is to be completed by June.

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