Journalist says 11 relatives killed in Baghdad

An Iraqi journalist said on Monday gunmen went on a killing spree in his Baghdad home, murdering seven children and four adult relatives, but Iraq’s interior ministry denied the attack took place.Dia Kawwaz, editor of Internet website Shabeqat Akhbar Al Iraq (Network of Iraqi News), said militiamen sprayed his relatives with bullets after storming into his house on Sunday.

“Four gunmen entered my family house in Shab area. Two of my sisters, their husbands and seven children between five and 10 years old were killed yesterday [Sunday] morning,” Kawwaz told AFP on Monday by telephone from Amman.

However, the Iraqi interior ministry’s director of operations, Major General Abdel Karim Khalaf, said he had no knowledge of the attack. “This is a lie. Nothing like this has happened. If such a big crime happens, we always launch an investigation,” Khalaf told AFP.

Kawwaz, however, insisted the crime had indeed taken place and on Monday evening held a condolence service in Amman to mourn the deaths. “I heard the news from my mother. There will also be a condolence meeting in Kut tomorrow,” Kawwaz told AFP, referring to the central Iraqi Shiite city.

The condolence service in Amman was held at the office of a charitable organisation called Khalil Rahman, according to AFP correspondent who was in attendance. Kawwaz earlier told AFP the crime was committed by Shiite militiamen, whom he said killed his relatives “when the family was having breakfast.”

“Earlier I was accused of being pro-US and so had to flee to Germany and now I am accused of being a Saddamist,” said Kawwaz, a Shiite who has lived in Germany for the past 20 years. According to the report on Kawwaz’s news website, which is known for its strong stance against the US military occupation of Iraq, the gunmen bombed the house after killing the family members.

“The gunmen were heavily armed and started shooting randomly. They killed all the family members and later bombed the house,” the report said. It said the incident took place despite the presence of police at a nearby checkpoint.

“The gunmen came in the vehicle which had no registration plate,” the website reported. Kawwaz said such killings were not new in Iraq. “What is happening in Iraq is well known. Since the start of the occupation there are groups who are eliminating officers, doctors and now it is journalists,” he said.

“If you are working as a journalist in Iraq and if you do not abide by the orders of the occupier or those who came with the occupier, you will face this fate.”

The Iraqi Association to Defend Jounalists’ Rights condemned the “brutal crime against the family of journalist Dia Kawwaz.”

“We call on the government to review the crimes and violations being perpetrated against journalists and their families,” it said in a statement. “They should take responsibility to protect journalists who are the main targets of gunmen. By not investigating such crimes, the government is helping the murderers.”

The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders expressed shock at the incident.

“We are shocked by the assassination of the family members of Kawwaz. We demand an investigation to identify the criminals and bring them to justice,” it said in a statement released in Paris.

Reporters Without Borders said at least 206 journalists, technicians or assistants have been killed since the US-led invasion of March 2003, 46 of them since the start of this year.

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