Iraq's Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry, whose police forces have been accused of complicity in sectarian attacks, has fired 3,000 employees accused of corruption or rights abuses and will change top commanders, a spokesman said Saturday.
Thousands have died this year in the cycle of killings between Shiite and Sunni death squads. Suspected Shiite militiamen have killed 26 Sunni-Arab rivals in a city north of Baghdad this weekend, raising the toll in the latest round of killings to 43.
Authorities also said they discovered the headless bodies of 17 Shiite construction workers in an orchard outside Baghdad, kidnapped and decapitated in apparent retaliation for an attack on Sunni Arabs last week.
The decapitated corpses were found Friday outside the city of Duluiyah, 45 miles north of Baghdad, along with four other unknown victims, also beheaded.
The killings of the workers came after the kidnapping Wednesday of three Sunni Arabs in Duluiyah by a Shiite militia based in Balad, police said. The three were killed and their bodies burned. After the discovery of the bodies late Friday and early Saturday, Sunni families living near Balad were starting to flee their homes, fearing Shiite retaliation.
In other developments: Saturday, a U.S. airman operating with an Iraqi police unit was killed in combat in Baghdad, the military said, bringing to 46 the number of U.S. servicemembers who have died in Iraq this month.Seven people were killed in an early morning mortar attack on a small Sunni village near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Residents blamed Shiite militias for the attack, in which four mortar rounds were fired into the village.In the evening, gunmen in a vehicle opened fire in the Shiite village of Wahda, killing three women and four men. Police pursued them and caught one of the attackers, a Sunni gunman, police said.A Shiite family of four was killed around dawn in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, army Capt. Oday Abdul-Ridha said. Abdul-Ridha said assailants dressed in military-style uniforms had stormed into the family's house.In Baghdad, an employee of government-run TV was killed in a drive-by shooting Friday night, police said. Raed Qais al-Shammari, a technician with the al-Iraqiya station, was standing near his home talking with a friend when he was shot by a gunman from a car in the violence-wracked Dora neighborhood, police said. The attack follows Thursday's killings of 11 people at Baghdad's private Shaabiya television station. Shiite militiamen are suspected to have carried out that attack, possibly due to perceptions the newly formed station was backing their Sunni Arab rivals.Hard behind U.S. tanks and troops, America's big builders invaded Iraq three years ago. Now the reconstruction funds are drying up and they're pulling out, leaving both completed projects and unfulfilled plans in the hands of an Iraqi government unprepared to manage either one. The Oct. 1 start of the U.S. government's 2007 fiscal year signaled an end to U.S. aid for new Iraq reconstruction. "We're really focusing now on helping Iraqis do this themselves in the future," said Daniel Speckhard, reconstruction chief at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Many Iraqi government ministries aren't able yet to pick up where the Americans leave off, he said. "They're very bad at sustainment in terms of programs and projects." The U.K. army chief said British troops should be withdrawn from Iraq "soon." A political outcry followed. Gen. Richard Dannatt later softened his comments by saying he meant "within a year or two or three."
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