Page last updated at 15:57 GMT, Monday, 22 February 2010

Iraq gunmen 'behead Shia family' in Baghdad


Gunmen in Iraq have shot dead a family of eight and beheaded some of the bodies, officials say, amid a wave of pre-election violence.

The gunmen killed the family, who were reportedly Shia Muslims living in a majority Sunni area just outside the capital, Baghdad, early on Monday.

Around the country, a further dozen people were killed in attacks.

Iraq is preparing for elections on 7 March and there are fears sectarian violence could escalate further.

"Unknown gunmen killed eight members of the same family with silencers, and then cut the heads off some of the bodies," a Baghdad security spokesman said in a statement.

He said four arrests had been made in connection with the killings, but did not give any further information.

Mortars fired

The beheading of civilians is a hallmark of Sunni extremists linked to al-Qaeda, it has been reported.

Also on Monday, a car bomb blew up outside the Internal Affairs Ministry in Baghdad, killing two policemen and three civilians.

A sniper shot a policeman manning a checkpoint, and a street cleaner was killed in a gun attack.

Six people were also injured when mortars were fired into the capital's fortified Green Zone, which houses the Iraqi parliament and US embassy.

Government buildings and Shia pilgrims have become frequent targets for attack over the past few weeks.

The US - which still has about 100,000 troops in Iraq - fears that if the election lacks credibility among Sunni voters, the country could slide back into sectarian violence.

The US is preparing to withdraw large numbers of troops by the middle of this year.

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