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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Militias Kidnap, Kill Iraqi Sunnis

BAGHDAD -- Masked Shiite gunmen went on a rampage Sunday in western Baghdad, pulling Sunni Arabs from cars and off the street and killing at least 41 people, police said, in a dramatic escalation of sectarian violence.

The violence in the Jihad neighborhood was in apparent retaliation for the Saturday night car bombing of a Shiite mosque that killed two and wounded nine. Sunni leaders expressed outrage over the Sunday attacks, referring to them as a massacre.

Police and witnesses said gunmen drove into the Jihad area in four cars at about 10 a.m. and began stopping vehicles. Those with identification cards with Sunni names were killed, they said.

An Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said Shiite militiamen wearing masks and black uniforms also roamed the neighborhood, abducting Sunnis off the street. Their bodies were later dumped on streets throughout the neighborhood, police said.

Police official Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said 41 bodies had been collected and taken to hospitals. He said U.S. and Iraqi forces had sealed off the area. Witnesses said the U.S. forces used loudspeakers to announce a two-day curfew.

Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie, a Sunni, also called the attack "a real and ugly massacre," and blamed Iraqi security forces, widely believed to have been infiltrated by Shiite militias, for failing to maintain order.

"There are officers who instead of being in charge should be questioned and referred to judicial authorities," al-Zubaie told Al-Jazeera television.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office distanced itself from al-Zubaie's comments, issuing a statement saying they "do not represent the government's point of view."

Some Sunni leaders blamed the Madhdi army, the black-uniformed militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"They wanted to retaliate against people of the other sect," said Sheikh Abdul Samad al-Hadithi, imam of the a mosque that was hit by a car bomb on Friday, accusing Interior Ministry forces at the site of standing by while the attacks occurred.

Al-Sadr aide Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji denied any links, saying the attackers were wearing the black uniforms to provoke sectarian tension.