Six Sunni men who received death threats for meeting with local Shiites were killed Saturday in execution-style slayings, police said.
The attack near Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of the Iraqi capital, were apparently connected to rising sectarian violence that has included the claimed abduction and execution Friday of at least 14 members of the Shiite-led security forces.
Also Saturday, the U.S. military said it killed "key terrorists" who were using anti-aircraft artillery to fire at American military helicopters near Taji, north of Baghdad.
The men gunned down Saturday — all relatives from the Mashhada tribe — were killed after gunmen stormed the family's house at dawn, police said.
The victims in Youssifiyah were separated from women and children and shot dead in their home, police said.
Their bodies were transferred to a hospital morgue in the neighboring town of Mahmoudiyah, where AP Television News footage showed them wrapped in blankets and lined up on the metal floor of a refrigeration chamber. At least two had their hands tied behind their backs.
The motive of the brutal attack could not be independently verified. But police, citing information from surviving relatives, said the victims had received threats from Sunni insurgents after participating in a reconciliation conference with Shiites last month.
The conference was held in Mahmoudiyah in late February.
In Other Developments: Three U.S. soldiers were killed Saturday by a roadside bomb in central Baghdad, the military said. The bomb exploded next to their vehicle while on patrol, the military said in a statement. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday he will reshuffle his Cabinet in coming days, as his government faces mounting U.S. pressure to take greater responsibility for security and other efforts to stabilize the country. Al-Maliki did not indicate the extent of the changes, including
whether the overhaul would include replacing key posts such as the
defense and foreign ministers, but told the Associated Press that the reshuffling will occur either this week or next. The U.S. military said it captured nine suspected insurgents in a raid Saturday morning north of Taji, a town on Baghdad's northern outskirts. Two of the men were believed to be responsible for recruiting and helping foreign militants join the insurgency in Baghdad, the military said in a statement. The suspects were also accused of harboring al Qaeda in Iraq leaders, it said. A day earlier, American warplanes bombed an area west of Taji, targeting militants who were armed with anti-aircraft artillery, the military said in another statement Saturday. "Key terrorists were killed during the air strike," the statement said, without elaborating. At least eight U.S. helicopters have crashed or been forced down by enemy fire this year, several near Taji. Iraq's Defense Ministry said Saturday that Iraqi troops killed three suspected militants in Khan Bani Saad, a mixed town northeast of Baghdad. Two men were arrested in the raid, the Ministry said in a statement. Seven others were captured in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, it said. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad wrote in a commentary published Saturday in the Washington Post that "resolving concerns about control of oil is central to overcoming internal divisions in Iraq." Iraq's new oil law would "serve as a vehicle to unify" the country, Khalilizad wrote. A roadside bomb exploded on a minibus Friday night in Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing two women and an 11-year-old child, said police officer Haider Satar. An Iraqi special forces agent, Lt. Col. Fadhil Rahim, was shot dead Saturday in an ambush on his convoy in Adil, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of western Baghdad, police and hospital officials said. A roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol Saturday morning in southeast Baghdad, wounding three policemen and one civilian, police said.