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39 Iraqis said killed in wave of attacks by insurgents, gangs

BAGHDAD -- At least 39 people were killed by insurgents and shadowy sectarian gangs, police reported yesterday -- continuing the wave of violence that has left nearly 1,000 Iraqis dead since the bombing last month of a Shi'ite Muslim shrine.

As the Iraq war entered its fourth year, police found the bodies of at least 15 more people dumped in and near Baghdad. The discoveries marked the latest in a string of execution-style killings that have become an almost daily event as Sunni and Shi'ite extremists settle scores.

Sectarian killings have swept across Iraq since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shi'ite Muslim shrine in Samarra. An Associated Press tally, including the deaths reported yesterday, put the toll at 993 since the golden dome atop the Askariya shrine was left in rubble by two bombers, who are believed to remain at large.

Among those killed in scattered violence yesterday were 10 policemen, who are prime targets for insurgents, most of them Sunni militants, trying to break the will of the mainly Shi'ite police force.

As night fell yesterday, a bomb struck a coffee shop in northern Baghdad, killing at least three civilians and injuring 23 others. The bomb was left in a plastic bag inside the shop, police Major Falah al-Mohammadewi said.

At about the same time, gunmen killed two oil engineers leaving work at the Beiji refinery north of Baghdad. An electrical engineer and technician were gunned down at the nearby power station, Beiji police Lieutenant Khalaf Ayed Al-Janabi said.

Separately, the owner of a small grocery in downtown Baghdad was shot and killed.

In southeast Baghdad, also toward evening, a roadside bomb blew apart a minibus, killing four pilgrims returning from the holy city of Karbala, where millions of Shi'ite faithful gathered to mark the 40th and final day of the annual mourning period for Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. Five pilgrims going to Karbala were wounded in a drive-by shooting earlier in the day, police said.

Otherwise, the commemoration passed largely without incident and absent the violent bomb attacks that have hit pilgrims there over the past two years.

Authorities in Baghdad closed the international airport until today, citing the need to protect the Karbala commemoration, apparently from any attackers who might try to fly into the country.

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