Gunmen kill Iraqi irrigation worker and family

Gunmen kill an irrigation department worker and three members of his family as part of an apparent tribal dispute over water distribution west of Baghdad.

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BAGHDAD // Gunmen killed an employee of a local irrigation department and three of his family members today as part of an apparent tribal dispute over water distribution west of Baghdad, officials said. The attack came a day after an anti al Qa'eda fighter and his family were killed in another village, but police said the man killed today had no ties to the terror network or Iraqi security forces, who are also frequently targeted by insurgents in Iraq.

Faisal Hassan, the 40-year-old driver of a drilling truck, his wife and two young children were killed as they slept in a pre-dawn attack in the mainly Sunni district of Abu Ghraib, police said. The grisly killings reflect concerns that criminal activity is rising as sectarian bloodshed ebbs. Irrigation department employees have increasingly been targeted in the area as rival tribal factions battle over the distribution of water. Another employee and the son of the department's director also were killed earlier this year, police said.

"Because of the frequent attacks on these employees, their job has become as risky as working with the police or Sahwa," Mohammed Khudair, an investigator with the Abu Ghraib police department, said. Sahwa, or Awakening Councils, are government-backed Sunni militias that revolted against al Qa'eda in Iraq. Thursday's attack occurred in nearby Anbar province, a former insurgent stronghold that was the birthplace of the Awakening Council movement.

Gunmen killed Khudr al-Issawi, his wife and three children as they slept in the garden to escape the heat in a village near Fallujah, 65 kilometres west of Baghdad. Such attacks in which entire families were gunned down were common at the height of Shiite-Sunni bloodshed that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006-2007. Violence has dropped sharply, but attacks continue, raising concerns about the readiness of the Iraqis to protect the people as the US military prepares to withdraw its forces by the end of next year.

Also today, two rockets slammed into a group of houses near the Baghdad International Airport, killing two people and wounding eight, police said. A bomb struck an oil pipeline near Beiji, 250km north of Baghdad, filling the sky with thick, black smoke as clean-up crews burned the oil that was leaking into the nearby Tigris River, officials said. Abdul-Aziz Muslih, an official at the Beiji refinery, said the pipeline links oil fields in Kirkuk with Beiji. The Iraqi army had sealed off the site while fire crews battled to put out the blaze.