Assailants killed eight members of a Shiite family in a village outside Baghdad on Monday, shooting some and beheading others, just one of a series of pre-election shooting and car bombing attacks that swept the country, killing 22 people in all.
Attacks on civilians were commonplace at the height of the sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007. The targeting of civilians on Monday, especially the beheadings considered a hallmark of Sunni insurgents, raised concerns that the vicious sectarian violence that nearly tore the country apart could resurface.
Associated Press television video of the attack on the family in Wahda, a mixed Shiite-Sunni village 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Baghdad, showed a blood-soaked mattress and carpet, and stuffed animals strewn across the floor.
The Baghdad-area security command said in a statement that a "terrorist group" using silencers shot and beheaded eight members of a single family. Authorities did not say how many were shot and how many were beheaded, and provided few other details of what they described as an "ugly crime."
AP video from the nearby police station showed four people who authorities said were responsible, but no further details were given. The police statement did not indicate who might have carried out the attack.
A Baghdad police officer and witnesses said the family belonged to Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority. They all spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the incident.
Although sectarian violence dramatically diminished after many Sunni insurgents turned against al-Qaida in late 2006 and joined forces with the U.S. military, there are signs it might be reigniting. Insurgents have repeatedly targeted government institutions across Iraq in recent months in an attempt to destabilize the country ahead of the March 7 parliamentary vote.
In other violence Monday, two police officers and three civilians died after a booby-trapped car blew up outside the Internal Affairs office in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, two police officials said.
In Baghdad, gunmen broke into the home of a family, killing a couple and their two daughters, police said. While the family was Shiite and living in a Shiite neighborhood, authorities said the motive might have been robbery, noting that the gunmen took the family's car.
Elsewhere in the capital, a sniper shot and killed a policeman manning a downtown checkpoint, and gunmen opened fire on a group of street cleaners, killing one, authorities said. Six other people were hurt and homes and cars were damaged after three mortar rounds struck the Green Zone, the neighborhood housing the main Iraqi government compound and the U.S. Embassy. It was not clear whether Iraqi or American military personnel were hurt.
In two separate incidents in northern Iraq, gunmen killed a policeman manning a police official in Kirkuk and two soldiers stationed at a checkpoint in the northern city of Mosul, authorities said.
Associated Press Writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Chelsea J. Carter in Baghdad, Mazin Yahya in Ramadi contributed to this report and Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah.
(This version CORRECTS in graf 9, 'gunmen' sted 'police.')