11 Pakistani and 3 Indian Shiite pilgrims shot dead
Baghdad: Fourteen Pakistani and Indian Shiite pilgrims were abducted and killed in Iraq's western desert, police said yesterday.
It came a day after the Pentagon warned that sectarian strife there had created the risk of civil war.
The 11 Pakistanis and three Indians, all male, had been travelling to holy sites in Iraq on Thursday when they were attacked in Anbar province, Iraqi and Indian officials said.
The 11 Pakistani pilgrims killed in the attack will be buried at Karbala, the Pakistani Ambassador to Jordan said yesterday.
The envoy, Arif Kamal, told state-run television from Amman that there were a total of 26 Pakistanis, 11 men and 15 women, in the party travelling to Karbala by bus when they came under attack.
The assailants killed the men but freed the women after looting their belongings, he said.
He identified those killed as: Farhat Abbas, Fazal Sherazi, Malek Irshad Hussain, Mazhar Hussain, Malek Imran Ali, Sadaqat Ali, Mohammad Ramzan, Gulam Shabbir, Malek Gulam Hussain, Imran Amjad and Rab Nawaz.
The three Indians have been identified as Jaffer Mashadi of Vishakhapatnam, M Beigh and Mohammad Ahmad Ali, both from Hyderabad.
An official at the Al Hussain hospital in the city of Karbala, where the bodies were taken on Friday, said the 14 men had their hands bound and had been shot in the head. Some had been tortured and one was partially decapitated.
Pakistan said it strongly condemned the killings and again warned its citizens against travelling to Iraq.
An attack on a revered Shiite shrine in February has unleashed bloodletting between Shiites and Sunnis who now form the backbone of the insurgency.
The 63-page Pentagon assessment released on Friday said 'conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq'. "Nevertheless, the current violence is not a civil war, and movement toward a civil war can be prevented," it added.
Key to Washington's strategy of averting all-out sectarian conflict has been the build-up of Iraqi security forces to help enforce the authority of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's government, which has so far failed to quell the violence.
A ceremony in which Iraq was to assume operational command of its new armed forces from US-led troops was postponed yesterday at the last minute amid confusion, a US military spokesman said, citing poor planning.
Shiite pilgrims are a frequent target for insurgents, and Indian and Pakistani officials said they had issued warnings against travel to Iraq.
"We had much earlier issued a travel advisory against going to Iraq. I'm sorry it has been disregarded," Indian junior Foreign Minister E. Ahamed said.
Ahamed said the 14 victims had been part of a larger group of 40 people who had crossed into Iraq after touring holy sites in Jordan and Syria.
Police found the bodies of the men in neighbouring Karbala province the following day, he said.
A statement purportedly from Al Qaida's Iraqi umbrella group last week urged Sunnis to launch a holy war against Shiites.
Sectarian violence is spreading north, outside of Baghdad into Diyala prov-ince and oil-rich Kirkuk, it said.
Death squads, sometimes with "rogue elements" of US-trained Iraqi security forces, are heavily responsible for the sectarian violence, including execution-style killings.
The United States has boosted its Iraq force to 140,000, the most since January, with 15,000 combat troops in Baghdad trying to halt the slide into all-out civil war.
Yesterday's ceremony to hand over operational command of Iraq's army from US commander General George Casey to the Iraqi Defence Ministry had been hailed by US officials as a big step towards Iraq taking responsibility for security.
"There was an error in planning between us and the Iraqi defence minister over the ceremony," US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson said after it was postponed at the last minute.
Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilayhi Rajiun,
Please Recite Surah Fatiha for the Shaheed. May Allah swt ease the suffering of their families (and all Iraqis).