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Iraqi Insurgents Kill 24 People With Ties to Pro-US Militia

At least 24 people were killed in a village south of Baghdad after apparently being tortured. Iraqi interior ministry officials are blaming al-Qaida for the slayings of the men and women who reportedly have connections to the local pro-U.S. Sahwa ("Awakening Council") militia. The attack was launched late Friday.

The brutal killings took place in the Iraqi village of Bou Saifi, south of Baghdad. Sources at the Yarmouk Teaching hospital indicated that most of the victims had broken limbs.

Baghdad's security chief, General Qassem Mohammed Atta, explained to reporters that the men and at least 5 women were killed after they were tied up and brutally beaten.

He stresses that Iraqi security forces have been carefully investigating the crime and that he, himself, has taken part in interrogating suspects.

He says that Iraqi security forces completely sealed off the area where the crime took place and were able to arrest 15 suspects. He adds that his men also imposed a curfew and that he has personally taken part in the investigation. He also notes that the security forces saved the lives of 7 villagers who had been tied up by the assailants, with their hands bound.

An Interior Ministry official said that the dead villagers were relatives of pro-U.S. Sahwa militiamen and members of the Iraqi security forces. He accused al-Qaida of carrying out the killings.

One Iraqi satellite TV station reported that the assassins were wearing U.S. Army uniforms and had been mistaken for American soldiers. It said that residents of the village are accusing men from a neighboring village of staging the attack.

Mustapha Shabib, who belongs to a Sahwa council south of Baghdad, complains that the government and the Iraqi security forces have not done a good job of protecting Sahwa militiamen since they were incorporated into the government security forces.

He says that a major security vacuum has occurred since the government absorbed Sahwa militias into the Iraqi security forces. He also points out that the area where the crime took place has had a history of terrorist activity and that many al-Qaida militants have been released from prison recently and are now back to their old activities.

The attack was the worst of its kind since a similar incident took place last November when 13 villagers with ties to a Sahwa militia west of Baghdad were murdered.

The Sunni Arab al-Sahwa militias were begrudgingly incorporated into Iraq's security forces at the end of 2008 and have been paid, often erratically, by the government since January 2009.

Targeted killings and other violence has been on the rise in the aftermath of the country's inconclusive March 7 parliamentary election in which Iraq's political leaders are still jockeying to form a government.