This post was updated at 5:15 p.m. ET.
Iraqi police say 33 people, including 20 or more women, were gunned down in apartment buildings in eastern Baghdad.
The Associated Press quotes police as saying “the gunmen showed up in four-wheel drive vehicles and stormed the buildings in the Zayounah neighborhood in eastern Baghdad.”
“When we walked up the stairs, we saw a couple of women’s bodies and blood streaming down the stairs,” an unidentified police officer told Reuters. “We entered a flat and found bodies everywhere, some lying on the sofa, some on the ground, and one woman who apparently had tried to hide in a cupboard in the kitchen shot to death there.”
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and it wasn’t clear whether the victims were specifically targeted or what the motive might be. However, Reuters notes that “Shi’ite militias have been accused by locals of carrying out killings of women branded as prostitutes in that district of the capital, though there was no way to immediately confirm who was responsible for the attack.”
Meanwhile, in an effort to shore up the front line, Iraq is airlifting some 4,000 volunteer fighters to the embattled city of Ramadi, where they are intended to bolster government forces against the Sunni insurgency.
The Associated Press says:
“Around 2,500 of the volunteers arrived in Ramadi, located 70 miles west of the capital, on Friday and are to be joined by the remaining 1,500 on Saturday, said Gen. Rasheed Flayeh, the commander of operations in Anbar province. The men are being ferried out to Ramadi from Baghdad by helicopter, he added.
“The vast majority of volunteers are Shiites who have answered a call from the country’s top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to defend Iraq from the militants who have overrun of much of the country’s north and west over the past month. The Sunni militant blitz is led by the Islamic State extremist group, which has unilaterally declared the establishment of an Islamic state ruled by Shariah law in the territory it controls straddling the Iraq-Syria border.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday that Iran and Russia were helping the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki battle the rebels.
“We are aware of the Iranian and Russian efforts to help the Iraqis, but we are not involved in coordinating any missions,” Hagel was quoted by The Hill as saying.
According to The Hill:
“A Pentagon official said the U.S. believes Iranian pilots are in the air in Iraq but not Russian pilots.
“‘We believe that there are some manned Iranian flights manned by Iranian pilots,’ the official said, according to The Hill. ‘There’s nothing that indicates there are Russian pilots flying around.’ ”
“Earlier this week, Iran sent three Su-25 fighter jets to Iraq designed for close air support of ground troops.”
And, Reuters says:
“The U.N. special envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said the country could plunge into chaos if parliament fails to move forward on a government in a next session now set for Sunday.
“He also urged lawmakers to turn up, after fewer than a third attended the first session when Sunnis and Kurds walked out after Shi’ites failed to nominate a premier to replace Maliki.”