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Published: Sunday December 8, 2013 MYT 5:35:01 AM
Updated: Sunday December 8, 2013 MYT 5:35:55 AM

Gunmen attack liquor stores in Baghdad, killing nine

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Gunmen attacked 12 liquor stores in Baghdad on Saturday, killing nine people, police said, the latest in a series of assaults on alcohol sellers in the capital.

The attackers approached the stores in SUVs and shot dead people inside shops and supermarkets and wounded two. Police said most of the victims were members of Iraq's Yazidi Kurdish minority who tend to staff alcohol stores.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but Shi'ite Muslim militias, who warn against practices they see as going against their strict interpretation of Islam, are believed to have been behind assaults on liquor stores and cafes earlier this year.

Attacks in May drew an unusual rebuke from Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who said the government would not tolerate "militias and gangs" who violated public freedom.

Even though many Iraqis shun alcohol, forbidden under Islamic law, the country is a generally less conservative Muslim society than neighbours such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, thanks to its mix of Shi'ites, Sunnis, ethnic Kurds and Christians.

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein allowed shops to sell alcohol legally, although bars and nightclubs were banned towards the end of his rule. Shops with licences that are still valid can sell alcohol now but there are also illegal outlets.

Islamist parties have grown in power since the fall of Saddam in 2003 after the U.S.-led invasion, however.

Some Iraqis fear hard-line Islamists may start to exert more influence over aspects of Iraqi life.

Security officials have blamed militias for attacks on cafes where women work as waitresses.

Violence in Iraq is as its highest level in at least five years. Although militias have become increasingly active, it is an almost daily bombing campaign by Sunni insurgents which has killed thousands in 2013.

In a separate incident on Saturday, gunmen shot dead a son and nephew of a prominent Sunni sheikh in Ramadi, 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, police said, adding that the sheikh is a known supporter of the government.

Local leaders and their families are especially vulnerable to targeted killings by insurgents, many of whom have links to al Qaeda.

Another civilian was killed and six were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded in the Sunni district of Doura, in south Baghdad, police said.

(Reporting by Raheem Salman and Suadad al-Salhy; Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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