2 Iraqi Women Killed by Convoy Guards

untitled-3.jpgBy SINAN SALAHEDDIN
BAGHDAD (AP) — Guards in a security convoy opened fire on a car at an intersection in central Baghdad on Tuesday, killing two Christian women, police said. Separately, suicide car bombings targeting a local police chief and a Sunni sheik working with U.S. forces killed at least 19 people.

Across Iraq, violence claimed the lives of at least 44 people.

Police and witnesses could not immediately give more details about the gunmen in Baghdad except to say they were in a convoy of four SUVs commonly used by private security companies and the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.

While there was no indication Blackwater USA was involved, the attack threatened to increase calls for limits on the security firms that mounted after the Sept. 16 shooting deaths of as many as 17 Iraqi civilians allegedly that company’s guards. The American security company said its employees were acting in self-defense.

The women were in a white car that drove into the Masbah intersection in the central Karradah district as the convoy of three white and one gray SUVs was stopped about 100 yards away, according to a policeman who witnessed the shooting from a nearby checkpoint.

The men in the SUVs threw a smoke bomb in an apparent bid to warn the car against coming forward, said Riyadh Majid, the policeman. The woman driving the car tried to stop, but was killed along with the passenger when two of the guards in the convoy opened fire, Majid said.

The pavement where the attack occurred was stained with blood and covered with shattered glass from the car windows.

He said the convoy then raced away and Iraqi police came to collect the bodies and tow the car to the local police station.

Another policeman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution, said the guards were masked and wearing khaki uniforms. He said one of them left the vehicle and started to shoot at the car while another opened fire from the open back door of a separate SUV.

The victims were identified by relatives and police as Marou Awanis, born in 1959, as Geneva Jalal, born in 1977.

“These are innocent people killed by people who have no heart or consciousness. The Iraqi people have no value to them,” said a man who was part of a group of relatives gathered with a Christian priest at the local police station.

The man said Awanis had three daughters. “Who will now raise the girls? They are now motherless,” he said.

Awanis’ sister-in-law, Anahet Bougous, said the woman was using her car to taxi government employees to work to help raise money for her three daughters.

“May God take revenge on those killers,” Bougous said, crying outside the police station. “Now, who is going to raise them?”

The nearly simultaneous attacks in Beiji were the deadliest in a series of bombings in recent days as the terror network apparently steps up its promised Ramadan offensive as the end of the Islamic holy month draws near.

The attackers in the oil hub 155 miles north of Baghdad drove a minibus laden with explosives into the house of a local police chief and detonated an explosives-packed Toyota Land Cruiser outside the home of a leading member of the local Awakening Council, a group of Iraqis who have turned against extremists in the area.

A Sunni mosque about 100 yards away from the police chief’s house was damaged and three of its guards were among at least 19 people killed, according to police and hospital officials.

Iraqi officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said the police chief, Col. Saad al-Nifoos, and the Sunni tribal official, Sheik Hamad al-Jibouri, survived.

The U.S. military said the targeted Awakening Council leader was Samir Ibrahim, not Sheik Hamad. It also said Ibrahim and the police chief had survived.

Saleh Jassim Moussa said two of his relatives from the neighborhood were killed.

The force of the blast was so strong, it shattered all the windows and ripped the doors from their frames in his home, only 100 yards away from the first explosion.

“It was a really huge explosion, we panicked and ran out but for minutes, we couldn’t see anything because of the heavy smoke,” said Moussa, 38, a government employee, who was reached by phone. “We’re still digging through the rubble, looking for others.”

Beiji is in the Sunni province of Salahuddin, which along with the vast Anbar province to the west is part of Iraq’s Sunni heartland. The heartland has been the home base for the Sunni-led insurgency, but the U.S. military has cited recent success in getting local tribal leaders to join forces against the terror network.

“This is yet another failed attempt to break the will of the Iraqi people who just want to go on with their lives without violence, raise their children, earn a living and coexist together in a peaceful manner,” said Lt. Col. Michael O. Donnelly, military spokesman for northern Iraq.

Associated Press writers Katarina Kratovac and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this story.