Shiite militiamen kidnapped their brother. So as the sun went down Wednesday, six of them — all members of the powerful Mashhadani...

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Shiite militiamen had kidnapped their brother.

So as the sun went down Wednesday, the six men — all members of the powerful Mashhadani tribe of Sunni Arabs — picked up their AK-47s and a bomb and headed for the other side of Huriya, a mixed northwestern Baghdad enclave that used to be a model of peaceful co-existence.

The explosive detonated near the local office of Muqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric whose Mahdi army militiamen are accused of thousands of execution-style killings of Sunnis in Baghdad.

As the militia fighters ran outside to investigate the explosion, the Mashhadani men rushed inside, hoping to find the kidnapped brother.

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But the fighters recovered more quickly than the Mashhadanis expected. The militia surrounded the building, besieged it and killed the rescue party.

Then they dragged two of the bodies into the street and set them on fire. “They kept them burning until 1 a.m.,” said Faraj Mohammed, 30.

Story isn’t unusual

In Baghdad, where at least 5,100 people died in July and August, there is nothing unusual about the story of the Mashhadani brothers. Mutilated bodies appear daily, often by the dozens, in neighborhoods such as Huriya that have been swept into the violent tide of sectarian killings that washed over the nation after the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22.

By Thursday morning, Iraqi police had found at least 60 more bodies in Baghdad. Seven others were killed in bombings and shootings in the capital.

The killings are continuing even as U.S. and Iraqi forces conduct a major military operation to restore order to the capital. Senior U.S. officials complained in Baghdad this week about the reluctance of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government to take decisive action against militias linked to his political base.

U.S. commanders said they expect to reduce the violence eventually, but acknowledge they don’t have enough troops to secure every problem area in Baghdad. They blame al-Maliki’s government for failing to deploy an additional 4,000 Iraqi soldiers to the capital.

Violence has flared before in Huriya. A captured Sunni Arab cleric from the area once confessed on Iraqi television to killing 80 people there. But several months ago, there were reports that Sunni and Shiite clerics in Huriya had worked out a cease-fire agreement.

Huriya, Arabic for “liberty,” is a working-class area known for its food markets, tailors and electronics stores.

The neighborhood now has 17 offices for rival political groups, including three linked to al-Sadr. All are guarded by gunmen.

Residents are divided about who started the recent bout of violence, but most agreed that the Mahdi army has the upper hand now.

“Shiites are threatening Sunni families and forcing them to leave Huriya,” said Mohammed, a Shiite who lives in Huriya. “Anyone who doesn’t obey will be killed. There used to be a lot of Sunnis in east Huriya — now there are none.”

Families have fled

Adnan al-Dulaimi, a head of the Iraqi Accordance Front, a leading Sunni Arab political party that has offices in Huriya, said that 60 percent of the Sunni Arab families that used to live in Huriya have fled.

Al-Dulaimi said that Shiite militiamen, some in Iraqi army uniforms, attacked one of his party’s offices less than two weeks ago. Several residents described a firefight that ended when mortars pounded the building into ruins and killed two women living nearby.

Al-Dulaimi since has acquired another office and brought in reinforcements to protect it.

“Yes we have guards, and we have the right to defend ourselves,” he said. “But we only have small arms, unlike the attackers who come with heavy weapons and missiles. Even with our simple weapons we were able to repel the attack — until the Iraqi army soldiers tipped the scale.”

U.S. commanders complain that as soon as they move into one neighborhood, gunmen and militia fighters simply move into another.

Meanwhile, Al-Qaida in Iraq’s leader, in a chilling audiotape released Thursday, called for nuclear scientists to join his group’s holy war and urged insurgents to kidnap Westerners so they could be traded for a blind Egyptian sheik who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison.

The fugitive terror chief said experts in the fields of “chemistry, physics, electronics, media and all other sciences — especially nuclear scientists and explosives experts” — should join his group’s jihad, or holy war, against the West.

“We are in dire need of you,” said the speaker, who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir — also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri. “The field of jihad can satisfy your scientific ambitions, and the large American bases [in Iraq] are good places to test your unconventional weapons, whether biological or dirty, as they call them.”

The audio was posted to a Web site that frequently airs al-Qaida messages. Al-Masri is believed to have succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who died in a U.S. airstrike north of Baghdad in June, as head of the al-Qaida-linked organization.

The message focused attention on Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, 68, an Egyptian cleric who was convicted in 1995 of seditious conspiracy for his advisory role in a plot to assassinate Egypt’s president and blow up five New York City landmarks including the United Nations. Abdel-Rahman is considered the leader of Egyptian Islamic militants, and the 1993 World Trade Center conspirators were known to have attended his lectures.

Al-Masri, also an Egyptian, added that more than 4,000 foreign militants have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 — the first known statement from the insurgents about their death toll.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Violence concealed,

Woodward says

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is concealing the level of violence against U.S. troops in Iraq and the situation there is growing worse despite White House and Pentagon claims of progress, journalist Bob Woodward said in advance of a new book.

Insurgent attacks against U.S.-led forces in Iraq occurred, on average, every 15 minutes, Woodward said in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview taped for broadcast Sunday.

“It’s getting to the point now where there are eight, 900 attacks a week. That’s more than a hundred a day. That is four an hour attacking our forces,” Woodward said in excerpts of the interview released Thursday before the release of his book on the administration, called “State of Denial.”

A senior administration official said he saw little new in Woodward’s charges “except that Bob believes he has a lot of making up to do since the Washington establishment criticized him for being too soft in his first two books [on the Bush administration].”