As Obama quietly pulls troops out of Iraq, Saddam's death squads take up the slack

Saddam Hussein may be gone but his old death squads have returned to Baghdad with the first targeted killing of civilians in over two years. Masked gunmen walked into the office of a charitable foundation and executed five employees.

Jan. 19, 2010 – They also left behind a car bomb at the entrance of the building, which exploded when police arrived on the scene injuring two officers, according to the Al-Zaman newspaper.

Pools of blood covered the floors of the charity office in a residential part of the Adhamiyah neighbourhood and walls were riddled with bullets. Two black cars in the front yard had their windows shot out and were covered in blood.

Witnesses said that four men employed by the Mawteni charity had died. The visitor who was killed was a woman seeking help at the office. She was accompanied by her three-year-old daughter, who survived the attack, according to neighbours. One said: “They sprayed everything with bullets. All the adults were killed.”

The attack signals a rise in violence ahead of parliamentary elections on March 7. The Government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seeking re-election, portraying itself as the guarantor of security.

Attacks taking place now, especially ones reported prominently in the local media, are likely to help the Prime Minister’s opponents.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack but the most likely culprits are Sunni extremist groups, who are attempting to reignite the sectarian war, and Shia militias trying to serve affiliated political parties.

At the height of the sectarian war in 2006 and 2007 targeted killings were common but in the past two years insurgents have favoured more indiscriminate forms of violence, including vehicle and roadside bombs.

“We are shocked with this attack that targeted people who were trying to help the poor and victims of violence,” a charity official said. “Our organisation is not related to any political group.”

The official said that the head of the charity, Alaa al-Qaisi, was wounded in the attack, and two of his brothers were among the dead. The charity aims primarily to serve widows and orphans, according to its website. It says it helps Iraqis regardless of their religious or social background. TIMES ONLINE H/T James