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Gunmen kill 8 workers in Baghdad

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Gunmen dressed like Iraqi police commandos burst into a Baghdad trading company Wednesday, killing five male and three female employees, an emergency police source said.

Six guards also were wounded at the Ibtikar trading company in western Baghdad's upscale Mansour neighborhood.

The slayings were the latest in a string of attacks and abductions this week in the Iraqi capital as Sunni-Shiite sectarian tensions boil over and crime spreads, leaving business owners and employees on edge.

"The security situation has deteriorated, and we do not know what is going on," said Emad Haqi, owner of a Baghdad electronics store, adding that he fears for his safety.

Some of the bigger stores have security guards to protect them, while others have closed amid the attacks.

"We are being taken by unknown people using government vehicles, but the government is denying this," Haqi said.

"We don't know who they are. If we resist them, then we will be called terrorists, and if they take us, they will ask for ransom to free us, so we do not know what to do, and for this reason many companies are closed now."

Iraqi Interior Ministry commandos have been accused of carrying out killings in death squads, with Shiites in the agency allegedly targeting Sunnis. The agency, which operates the national police, has denied involvement.

According to Reuters, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr claimed to be battling corruption and sectarian strife within the agency.

"I have suffered over these 10 months, fighting terrorism and cleaning up the ministry," he told Reuters.

Jabr told the news agency he had fired about 3,000 police officers for working with terrorists.

In Wednesday's strike on the trading company, it was unclear whether the attackers were police commandos or disguised as police.

They arrived at the firm in five vehicles similar to those used by the Interior Ministry, a police source said.

On Monday, gunmen abducted 16 al-Saeed trading company employees, also in the Mansour area. They rode in vehicles resembling those of the national police.

A day later, 19 people were abducted in three kidnappings across Baghdad, two at electronics stores and another at a currency exchange firm.

U.S. Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week that he isn't sure how many of the abductions are being conducted by terrorists or by kidnapping rings. (Watch as violent images are turning Iraqis against Americans -- 3:17)

In Washington, President Bush on Wednesday blamed former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for the country's sectarian violence, arguing that the U.S.-led invasion that deposed him is not to blame for the conflict.

"The argument that Iraq was stable under Saddam and that stability is now in danger because we removed him is wrong," Bush said. (Full story)

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Wednesday that he expects Iraqi politicians in the coming days to keep negotiating the formation of a national unity government. It remains a crucial but elusive goal more than three months after millions trekked to the polls to vote for a new parliament.

Other developments

  • A U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle on Tuesday killed three insurgents trying to plant a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. Its news release said the crew operating the MQ-1B Predator watched the trio for 30 minutes before firing a Hellfire missile.
  • The U.S. military announced Wednesday the death of a prisoner at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. The detainee, 25, died Sunday from head injuries received in a fight with another prisoner, the military said.
  • In western Baghdad, gunmen opened fire Wednesday on an Iraqi police patrol, wounding three policemen.
  • Elsewhere in the capital, two mortar rounds landed inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, site of Iraqi government offices and the U.S. and British embassies. No details were available about the attack.
  • Two U.S. soldiers died in combat Tuesday in Iraq, the U.S. military said. One soldier was killed by small-arms fire south of Baghdad, and a second one died when a Humvee hit a roadside bomb outside Habbaniya, the military said. Three other soldiers were wounded as they tried to return to the capital in a convoy. Since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, 2,324 U.S. troops have died.
  • The twin sister of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll appealed Wednesday for her captors to release her and for anyone with any knowledge about her whereabouts to give that information to authorities. "We would be grateful for any new sign that Jill is well," Katie Carroll said. The reporter was captured in Baghdad in January while on assignment as a freelancer for The Christian Science Monitor. (Full story)
  • CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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