BAGHDAD — Eight members of one Shiite family were killed south of Baghdad on Monday in the worst incident of a bloody day across Iraq that left at least 23 dead. The spate of attacks — and the fact that some of the family were beheaded — raised fears that insurgents are trying to reignite sectarian warfare at a time when the country is preparing for critical elections.
The March 7 election will determine who will oversee the country as the U.S. forces go home, and whether Iraq will be able to overcome the deep sectarian divides that almost destroyed it during the height of the fighting in past years.
A "terrorist group" using guns fixed with silencers shot some and beheaded others in the family of eight in the village of Wahda, a mixed Shiite-Sunni village 20 miles south of the capital, the Baghdad security command said in a statement.
Authorities provided no further details and little other information about what they described as an "ugly crime." But beheadings have been performed before by extremist Sunni insurgents.
U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Stephen Lanza said U.S. officials had been worried about a rise in violence ahead of the election, but added it was too soon to tell whether the death of the family of eight, as well as an early morning mortar attack against the Green Zone in Baghdad, were specifically tied to the vote.
Six people were hurt after three mortar rounds struck the Green Zone, the neighborhood housing the main Iraqi government compound and the U.S. Embassy.
In other violence, five died after a booby-trapped car blew up in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, 70 miles west of Baghdad.
In Baghdad, gunmen broke into the home of a family, killing all four. Authorities said the motive might have been robbery, noting that the gunmen took the family's car.
Elsewhere in the capital, a sniper killed a police officer while gunmen killed a street cleaner.
In two separate incidents in northern Iraq, gunmen killed a police officer in Kirkuk and two soldiers in the northern city of Mosul. In the central city of Tikrit, a sticky bomb attached to a car killed the driver.