Iraqi Gunmen Kill Eight Workers, Injure Six

Gunmen lined up 14 employees of an electronics trading company in Baghdad on Wednesday and shot them all, killing eight and wounding six, police said.

The motive of the attack at the al-Ibtikar trading company in the upscale Mansour neighborhood was not immediately clear. According to survivors' accounts to police, the assailants first asked for the company's manager, who was not there, before shooting.

The survivors said the assailants, some of whom wore police uniforms, identified themselves as intelligence agents from the Interior Ministry.

Hundreds of Iraqis have been killed in sectarian violence and by death squads operating inside the Shiite-dominated ministry since the Feb. 22 bombing of an important Shiite shrine in Samarra set off a wave of revenge attacks. Usually, the victims are killed in secret, their bodies discovered hours or days later.

The assault Wednesday was the second to target a trading company in Mansour this week. On Monday, gunmen wearing military uniforms and masks kidnapped 16 employees from the headquarters of the Saeed Import and Export Co. Police said the assailants went through papers and computer files before leaving with their captives.

Another mass abduction took place Tuesday, when masked gunmen, many in military uniform, stormed into a currency exchange and two electronic stores in broad daylight, seized 24 Iraqis and took tens of thousands of dollars. The kidnappings occurred within a half-hour, and police were investigating whether they were linked.

In Wednesday's attack, the gunmen arrived at the al-Ibtikar offices in five black BMWs about 8:15 a.m., police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said. They burned parts of the facility, but didn't appear to have taken any money, he said. The dead included five men and three women.

Elsewhere, gunmen killed three staffers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in a drive-by shooting in west Baghdad, Abdul-Razzaq said. A mortar round struck just outside al-Sadr's home in the holy city of Najaf earlier in the week. The firebrand anti-American leader, who holds great sway among poor Shiites in Baghdad, was at home but not hurt in the Sunday attack, according to an aide.

Also Wednesday, gunmen attacked a highway police patrol in western Baghdad, killing one policeman and wounding four others, including a civilian, police said. In south Baghdad, a sniper killed a policeman on patrol in the Dora neighborhood, Abdul-Razzaq said.

An unmanned U.S. Air Force Predator fired a Hellfire missile at three Iraqis planting a roadside bomb near Balad Air Base north of Baghdad, killing all three, the U.S. military.

Cameras on the Predator sent back live pictures of the three insurgents for about a half-hour Tuesday night as they dug a hole in the road, placed the explosive and ran triggering wires to a ditch near the road, according to the military.

Balad, 40 miles north of Baghdad, has become the logistics hub for all U.S. military operations in Iraq.

In other violence Tuesday, one U.S. soldier was killed and three were wounded when their Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb west of Baghdad, the military said. South of Baghdad, another U.S. soldier was killed by small-arms fire.

At least 2,325 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

After a one-day boycott by Shiite leaders, Iraqi politicians returned to talks on forming a government Tuesday. They debated what the security powers of the new government's prime minister should be, but reached no conclusions, Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said. Talks were expected to continue Wednesday.

The United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament, had shunned talks Monday to protest a U.S.-backed raid on what Iraqis said was a mosque. At least 16 people were killed in the assault, which freed an Iraqi hostage.

President Bush said he was "pleased to hear ... the Iraqis are now back at the table."

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has asked one of Iraq's most prominent Shiite politicians to seek the withdrawal of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's contentious nomination for a second term.

The United States has been pushing Iraq to speed up the formation of a unity government, seen as the best option to subdue the violence gripping several Iraqi cities — and to allow for the start of a U.S. troop withdrawal this summer.

But the talks are fragile in a country with deep sectarian differences between Shiites and Sunnis and daily violent death tolls in the dozens. More than 1,000 people have been killed since the Samarra bombing.

Police discovered 17 bodies Tuesday, all men from Baghdad who were handcuffed and shot in the head. Hundreds of bodies have been found since the shrine bombing.

Dozens of other Iraqis were wounded and seven were killed in drive-by shootings and car and roadside bombings Tuesday.