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Gunmen Attack Iraqi Charity in Baghdad

Posted by on Jan. 18, 2010 at 1:51 PM
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Published: January 18, 2010

BAGHDAD - Gunmen killed four or five people at the offices of an Iraqi humanitarian group in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad at midday on Monday, and left a bomb for police responders, in a rare attack on a nongovernmental organization here.

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Accounts of the attack, in the Adhamiya neighborhood, remained inconsistent on Monday. A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said the gunmen killed four employees of the organization, Mawteny, and injured the fifth. They left a bomb inside the office, which police and army officers disarmed, the police officer said.

But an official at the Ministry of the Interior said the gunmen killed all five people inside the house and left a bomb in a car outside, which wounded two police officers. The dead include two women, according to both accounts.

Security forces quickly sealed the street, but the gunmen escaped. Neither source knew the number of gunmen or the motive for the shooting. Conflicting accounts described the gunmen as wearing masks or security force uniforms.

Afterward, a woman on the street shouted "God shall take revenge" until police officers calmed her.

Neighbors said they were surprised by the shooting. "The reputation of the organization was good," said Othman Ahmed, 19, who was at his home nearby at the time of the shooting.

On its Web site, Mawteny says it was founded in 2007 and offers a number of services for poor Iraqis, including distribution of food and winter clothing. "They didn't have any problem with people in the neighborhood," Mr. Ahmed said. "Poor people would go into the organization and come out with food and supplies. They came out calm and peaceful."

Ahmed al-Izzy, a neighbor who was nearby at the time of the attack, said he did not hear any gunshots, suggesting that the gunmen used silencers.

The attack comes at a period of heightened tensions over Iraq's coming elections, from which the government has banned more than 500 candidates, accusing them of ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. An executive at a group that works with nongovernmental organizations in Iraq, speaking on condition of anonymity, said many nongovernmental organizations here were believed to be associated with political parties. He said that there had not been any attacks on nongovernmental organizations recently, but that some had received threats related to their rumored connections with parties. He had no direct knowledge about whether Mawteny was associated with a party.

Also in Iraq on Monday, government officials met with victims of the security contractor Blackwater Worldwide, including family members of some of the 17 people killed in 2007 when Blackwater guards opened fire on a crowded street. A federal judge in the United States dismissed criminal charges against five guards in December, setting off waves of anger among Iraqis. At the meeting on Monday, about 30 people met with Ali al-Dabbagh, the spokesman for the Iraqi government, who said he had called them together to get information on their civil lawsuits against Blackwater, now known as Xe. Some carried photos of lost ones or bore scars still visible from the attacks.

Victims expressed anger that the government had waited until now, during the political campaign, to meet with them. "This is the first time in three years that we met with a government official," said Fareed Waleed Hassoun, who was shot in the chest and arm in the assault. "Since the incident, not a single Iraqi official patted on my head."

Others said their lawyers had bullied them into accepting settlements with Blackwater, and hoped Mr. Dabbagh and the Iraqi government could help them reopen their suits. "We were forced to sign the papers, which were in English," said Muhammad Hassan Muhammad, who was wounded in the leg.

In Diyala Province on Monday, police officers trying to disarm a motorcycle bomb took it to the station, where it exploded, killing one officer and wounding three others, according to a security source. In Falluja, a magnetic bomb attached to a policeman's car killed two officers and a friend, a police source said.

Sa'ad al-Izzi contributed reporting from Baghdad, and employees of the New York Times from Baghdad, Diyala and Falluja.

by on Jan. 18, 2010 at 1:51 PM
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