Shiite, Sunni clerics shot dead in Baghdad

Gunmen killed a Shiite Muslim cleric on Tuesday while two missing Sunni clerics were found shot dead, police said.

The killings threaten to increase sectarian tensions in Iraq a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari vowed to crack down against anyone targeting Shiites and Sunnis. His threat came amid a spree of violence that has killed more than 450 people since his government was announced April 28.

Shiite cleric Sheik Mouwaffaq al-Husseini was shot in a drive-by shooting by unknown gunmen while driving in Baghdad's western Jihad neighborhood, police Capt. Taleb Thamer said on the scene.

Two Sunni clerics were found shot dead after being kidnapped by men Sunday from different mosques in Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Shaab by men wearing Iraqi army uniforms, a senior police official said on customary condition of anonymity.

Shaab, a Shiite dominated area, was also where six bodies were found late Sunday near a dam. Two other victims were found alive, but died later in the hospital. They were among the bodies of 50 men slain and dumped in various locations across Iraq.

Sheik Hamed al-Khazraji, a spokesman from the Sunni Muslim Association of Muslim Scholars, identified the two slain clerics as Sheik Hassan al-Naimi and Sheik Talal Nayef and confirmed the circumstances of their kidnappings.

Al-Naimi's body was found Tuesday and Nayef's on Monday, police and al-Khazraji said. The locations were their bodies were found were not immediately known.

An Associated Press photographer saw al-Naimi's relatives preparing documents to retrieve his body from Baghdad's coroner's office, where it was taken.

Attacks among Sunnis and Shiites have become common in the past weeks amid fears of violence between the two groups. Dozens of bodies of people from both sects were found in different areas around Baghdad.

Shiite cleric Qassim al-Gharawi died in a drive-by shooting in western Baghdad last week. Quraish Abdul Jabbar, a Sunni cleric, was reported shot dead and his body dumped behind a mosque in northeastern Baghdad on Monday.

During a Monday meeting with Iraq's top Shiite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, al-Jaafari said his new government "will strike against any criminal who tries to harm a Sunni or a Shiite citizen with an iron fist."

Al-Sistani also stressed the need for "fighting terrorism and guaranteeing security," but also urged his Shiite followers to exercise restraint in the face of provocative attacks, his aide said on customary condition of anonymity.

BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Writer

On the photo: Ibrahim al-Jaafari

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