BAGHDAD – The number of Iraqis slain "execution-style" surged last month, the United Nations said Sunday, raising fears of a return of the death squads that killed thousands during the darkest days of sectarian violence that followed the U.S.-led invasion.
The increase in targeted killings comes even though the U.N. reported that the overall death toll for November dropped to 659, compared with 979 in October. More than 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the year.
Three bombs tore through the funeral procession of the son of an anti-Al-Qaida Sunni tribal chief northeast of Baghdad, the deadliest in a wave of attacks that killed 17 people Sunday, Iraqi officials said.
"It seems that history is always repeating itself in Iraq," said Qassim Haider, a Shiite owner of a menswear shop in eastern Baghdad. He said he has stopped accepting invitations to visit friends in mainly Sunni neighborhoods because of his fears of violence.
Widespread chaos nearly tore the country apart following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. The violence ebbed in 2008 after a series of U.S.-Iraqi military offensives, a Shiite militia cease-fire and a Sunni revolt against Al-Qaida in Iraq, but that trend was reversed after a deadly April 23 crackdown by security forces on a northern Sunni protest camp.
Iraqis have grown used to random explosions, but the recent discoveries of bullet-riddled bodies have many worried about a long-feared resumption of all-out warfare between Shiite and Sunni factions.
Mazin Sabeeh, a Sunni government employee from northern Baghdad, said he has started avoiding Shiite neighborhoods to avoid being killed by militiamen.
Settling 'old scores'
"Apparently, some people from the other sect are still determined to take revenge upon Sunnis," he said. "With the current security vacuum and deterioration, they think it is the time to settle old scores."
The November casualty toll included 565 civilians and 94 security forces killed and 1,373 Iraqis wounded in attacks, according to the U.N. mission in Iraq.
Baghdad and surrounding areas saw the highest number killed last month, at 224, followed by the volatile northern Ninevah Province, with 107.
In all, at least 7,157 civilians and 952 Iraqi security forces have been killed since January, the U.N. said.
Last week, Iraqi police found 31 bodies of men, women and children who were shot in the head in three separate places around Baghdad, recalling the height of sectarian violence in 2006-2007 when extremists abducted and killed members of other religious groups, although the numbers remain significantly lower.
Sunday, the triple bombing at the funeral killed 11 mourners and wounded 45 as a local Sunni tribal sheik's son was buried.
A roadside bomb also hit a police patrol in Abu Ghraib, on the western outskirts of Baghdad, killing two officers and wounding three others.
In the former Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, police said gunmen killed Sunni cleric Khalid al-Jumeili, an organizer of the city's Sunni protest camp.
Medics at nearby hospitals confirmed the casualty figures for all attacks.