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Gunmen reportedly kill dozens of women in upscale Baghdad neighborhood

IRBIL, Iraq — Gunmen stormed a residential complex in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood Saturday, killing at least 30 people, including 28 women, according to Iraqi media.

An unidentified group of armed men raided a building in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Zayouna, breaking into “a number of apartments and opening fire on the residents,” reported Sumariya television, a private, pro-government channel.

Police cordoned off the area. Initial investigations yielded no evidence about the identity of the killers, or the motive for the attack, Iraqi media reported.

It appears to be one of the worst attacks in the capital since Sunni Arab insurgents seized vast swaths of the country last month. The killings recalled the carnage of the sectarian civil war of 2006-07, when death squads roamed the streets, killing thousands. Many victims were dragged from their homes and slain; others were killed in their homes.

Officials fear a repeat of that bloodletting as the Shiite-led government fights Sunni insurgents north and west of the capital. The fighting has raised sectarian tension in the capital and elsewhere.

Zayouna, home to many military officers who previously served under deposed strongman Saddam Hussein, remains one of Baghdad’s most affluent neighborhoods. Unlike many of the capital’s districts, Zayouna retains a mix of Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and is home to some members of Iraq’s small Christian minority.

South of Baghdad, the Iraqi army seized a large cache of weapons, including explosives and wires used to detonate improvised bombs, according to a statement released Saturday by the Ministry of Defense.

The deteriorating security situation in the capital comes as Iraqi government forces scramble to secure Baghdad and recapture territory lost to Sunni insurgents last month. The government has bolstered its forces with militias composed mostly of Shiite volunteers, many with little or no training.

The army said Saturday that an additional 4,000 Shiite volunteers would be dispatched to the western city of Ramadi to combat “extremists.”

Ramadi is the provincial capital of Anbar province, Iraq’s largest geographically, encompassing about one third of the nation’s land. The population is largely Sunni and has long been generally hostile to the Shiite-dominated central government.

During the U.S. occupation from 2003-2011, Ramadi and other areas in Anbar province were the site of fierce battles between Sunni insurgents and U.S. troops. The vast area has emerged again as a center of the Sunni insurgency, this time targeting not U.S. forces but the Iraqi government.

Many in Iraq’s Sunni minority object to the leadership of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, accusing him of favoring Shiites. Al-Maliki denies running a sectarian government or playing favorites. But even some fellow Shiite lawmakers and clerics have urged al-Maliki to run a more inclusive government.

The prime minister has also alienated the country’s Kurdish minority, who took advantage of the Sunni uprising to improve their bid for independence and seize land in the north. The peshmerga, the Kurdish fighting force, took control of two major oil fields Friday as Kurdish ministers suspended their participation in the government.

Bulos is a special correspondent.

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