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Amid reports of progress, a massacre shatters village

Witness describes confusion, horror in Iraq province

US helicopters flew over the site of a car bomb that exploded in a parking lot near the Green Zone in central Baghdad yesterday. In all, two car bombs in the capital killed at least 24 people. US helicopters flew over the site of a car bomb that exploded in a parking lot near the Green Zone in central Baghdad yesterday. In all, two car bombs in the capital killed at least 24 people. (ali al-saadi/afp/getty images)

BAGHDAD -- They arrived early yesterday morning in a straight line of official-looking vehicles, about 125 men dressed in Iraqi Army fatigues and carrying standard-issue weapons. Aziza Abdul Jabbar and her relatives ran out of her home, believing the military had arrived to protect their village in Diyala Province.

Then the men opened fire in the darkness, shooting indiscriminately, according to an account that Abdul Jabbar, 65, gave to a relative. She said she watched as they killed her son, daughter, and 7-year-old grandson. The men cursed at her to go indoors, which she did, cowering in her mud-walled home.

By the time the sun rose over the village, 30 of its people -- including three other children -- were dead.

The attack in Duwailiya, a village of several hundred people, served as a reminder of how volatile Diyala remains despite its massive US military presence. The massacre occurred just a few hours before General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a visit to Iraq that he is optimistic about US and Iraqi efforts to stem violence in Baghdad and other parts of the country.

Major General Benjamin Mixon, the top US military commander in northern Iraq, said during a news conference last week that the situation in Diyala had improved. "Now that the surge has reached its full strength, we are seeing definitive progress" in Diyala, he said, referring to President Bush's decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq this year.

Police said the violence seemed to be decreasing in the rural area that includes Duwailiya. Villagers hardly thought of themselves as Sunnis or Shi'ites, said resident Muhsin Abdullah al-Tamimi, 55, who spoke to a Washington Post special correspondent by telephone.

"We are all prisoners here; Sunni and Shi'ite doesn't matter," said Tamimi, a Shi'ite and a relative of Abdul Jabbar. He relayed her account to the Post.

"We don't blame our Sunni brothers for what happened; they're suffering just like us," Tamimi said.

Brigadier General Raziq Abdul Radhi, a military spokesman in Diyala, said insurgents perceived the villagers as hostile and had threatened them. He said he didn't know how the attackers obtained what appeared be brand-new police vehicles, but acknowledged that they could have been members of the security forces themselves. The attack was first reported in The New York Times.

In response, US troops stormed into an insurgent-controlled area of the province in search of the gunmen. Backed by tanks, helicopters, and at least one F-16 jet, soldiers rolled into the eastern part of Baqubah , the capital of Diyala Province. Gunfire could be heard in the main market district, and Sunni imams in four mosques used loudspeakers to call on their followers to fight the Americans, residents told the Associated Press by telephone.

Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said he was particularly pleased with the security situation in Baghdad and al-Anbar Province, the vast region to the west of the capital.

"What I'm hearing now is a sea change that is taking place in many places here," Pace said, according to the Associated Press. "It's no longer a matter of pushing Al Qaeda out of Ramadi, for example, but rather, now that they have been pushed out, helping the local police and the local army have a chance to get their feet on the ground and set up their systems," he added, referring to the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Pace said his largely favorable impression of security in the region would influence what he tells President Bush about the results of the troop increase. Pace said Monday that he was considering various recommendations to the president, including removing troops or sending more.

Most of the additional US forces have been concentrated in Baghdad and in al-Anbar and Diyala provinces, traditional insurgent strongholds.

In political developments yesterday, the bloc loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ended its month long boycott of the Iraqi Parliament, a spokesman said.

Sadr's political followers, who hold 30 of the 275 seats in Parliament, had suspended their participation last month to protest another bombing of the Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad.

Shi'ites had criticized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, saying he is not doing enough to protect the historic Askariya shrine.