Gunmen wearing Iraqi uniforms kill 24

BAGHDAD — Gunmen dressed in Iraqi army uniforms stormed three houses overnight Saturday in a Sunni Muslim village south of Baghdad and killed 24 people, including five women, Iraqi authorities said.

Most of the slain villagers belonged to "Awakening" groups, the bands of U.S.-backed Sunni fighters who helped in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq. The attack occurred in Al Bu Saifi village.

"Terrorists wearing Iraqi army uniforms and using SUVs stormed three houses of relatives, most of them are members of the local Awakening council," said a ranking officer in Iraq's Ministry of Interior who asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media. "They took men and women out, handcuffed them with metal handcuffs, and executed them."

Members of the Iraqi military have been accused in the past of taking part in past extrajudicial killings, but their uniforms are also widely available on the open market and have been used by insurgents as disguises.

Iraqi authorities estimated the number of attackers to be 10 and said the raid started at 10 p.m. Friday and lasted for four hours.

"We detained 17 suspects and imposed a curfew in the area" said Qassim Atta, the spokesman for Baghdad operations of the Iraqi army. He said that most of the victims were members of Iraqi security forces and the Awakening group.

Atta said the Iraqi army also found seven people handcuffed and freed them. Iraqi authorities also found one of the cars the gunmen used.

One survivor of the attack said the gunmen gained entry to her home by speaking English and convincing her mother they were U.S. soldiers on a patrol.

"My mother thought they were Americans who came to search the house, that's why she opened the door," said the woman, who ran to another room after seeing the attackers. Her mother and two brothers were killed.

"I heard four gunshots," the woman said. "It was all over in a second."

"The Iraqi army is embarrassed, and they are trying to find the killers fast. This is one of the biggest executions in Baghdad; it is a big failure for all security efforts," Atta said.

Maj. Mohammed al-Askari, a spokesman of the Defense Ministry, said villagers told Iraqi soldiers that the gunmen came from a nearby village.