BAGHDAD: Gunmen near Iraq's capital kidnapped and later shot to death six men, the deadliest of a series of attacks Sunday that killed at least 15 people across the country, authorities said.
The gunmen broke into the homes at dawn Sunday in the town of Latifiyah, a mainly Sunni town 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, a police officer said. Authorities later found the bodies, all with gunshot wounds to the head, in remote, rural farmland near the capital, the officer said.
No one immediately claimed the slayings and the motive behind the killing was unclear. Shiite militiamen could be seeking revenge for the ongoing Sunni insurgent attacks against Shiite neighborhoods. Militants with al-Qaida's local branch targets Sunnis in attacks as well or it also could be a personal vendetta.
However, the slayings come amid escalating sectarian violence in Iraq, which last year saw its highest death toll since the worst of such killings in 2007, according to the United Nations. In November, 18 Sunnis kidnapped by men in Iraqi army uniforms were found dead, just days after police found the corpses of 13 men all killed by close-range gunshots to the head.
Since late December, Iraq's minority Sunnis has been protesting what they perceive as discrimination and tough anti-terrorism measures against them by the Shiite-led government. Now some call for Shiites to create armed "popular committees," attached in some form to the regular security forces.
The idea raises the specter of some of Iraq's darkest years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime, paving the way for long-repressed majority Shiites to seize power.
The ongoing violence also comes as the country prepares for its first parliamentary elections since the withdrawal of U.S. troops on April 30
Meanwhile Sunday, a suicide bomber rammed a fuel tanker into a police headquarters in the northern city of Tikrit, killing three police officers and wounding 13, another police officer said. Tikrit is 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad.
In Maidan, a town about 20 kilometers (14 miles) southeast of Baghdad, a bomb in a commercial area killed two civilians and wounded five, police said. Shortly before sunset, a bomb exploded in a commercial street in Baghdad's northeastern suburb of Husseiniyah, killing four people and wounding 11, police said.
Three medical officials confirmed the casualty figures for the attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release the information to journalists.