World

Gunmen storm Baghdad money exchange, kill 5

Gunmen using pistols fitted with silencers stormed a money exchange office in central Baghdad on Monday, killing five people and wounding three in a brazen afternoon robbery, police officials said.

The heist came just hours after attackers wearing military uniforms raided the homes of several anti-al-Qaida Sunni fighters in Iraq before dawn, killing four men in an execution-style slaying.

Violence has dropped in Iraq, but criminal activity has been on the rise, with a spate of brash daylight robberies of banks, jewelers and financial institutions across the country this year. Many of the heists have been blamed on insurgents, who are said to be short on cash and seeking ways to fund their operations.

Insurgents also frequently target security forces and their allies to undermine confidence in the country's Shiite-dominated leadership.

Those killed in Monday's heist at the al-Warka exchange in Baghdad's busy commercial area around Rashid Street included its owner, his business partner and three customers. The wounded were bystanders, police officials said.

It was not immediately clear how much cash the assailants made away with.

No one claimed Monday's heist but declarations of responsibility for robberies of smaller financial offices and jewelers' stores are rare. An al-Qaida front group in Iraq had said it was behind June strikes on the Central Bank, the nation's treasury, and the Trade Bank of Iraq, attacks that had claimed dozens of lives.

In Monday's pre-dawn attack, gunmen raided the houses of several members of the government-backed groups known as Awakening Councils near the town of Youssifiyah, 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Baghdad, dragged the men out of their houses and sprayed them with bullets.

They left four dead and two wounded before fleeing the scene, interior ministry officials said.

The Councils played a key role in reducing violence in Iraq in the past two years but their future role in the security network remains uncertain as political rivals battle for posts in the new government seven months after an inconclusive election.

Also Monday, in Baghdad's eastern neighborhood of al-Ghadeer, a roadside bomb struck a car of a senior Iraqi official, wounding him and two bystanders and killing his driver. Director General of the Criminal Evidences Lab, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Mun'am, was taken to a nearby hospital, officials said.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The violence came as Iraqi politicians continue bickering over the formation of a new government after the March 7 parliamentary vote produced no clear winner.

The Sunni-backed Iraqiya list of Ayad Allawi narrowly defeated the Shiite block led by the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Neither alliance won enough seats to control parliament outright, touching off a scramble to rally support from other political parties that has dragged on for more than seven months.

Al-Maliki got a boost last month by forging an alliance with anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr that all but sealed his hold on the job.

On Sunday, a key Iraqiya leader said the party was no longer insisting on having the premiership post as long as it gets an equal share of power in Iraq's government. It was the strongest concession to date by Iraqiya that could break the seven-month impasse that has stymied efforts to seat a new government.

Marginalized in Iraq's power circles after Saddam Hussein's ouster and after boycotting the first round of elections in 2005, Sunnis in this year's election backed Allawi, who is Shiite, in hopes of regaining political strength and credibility.

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Associated Press Writers Sinan Salaheddin and Barbara Surk in Baghdad contributed to this report.