14 kidnapped men 'found shot dead' north of Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AFP) - The bodies of 14 men, kidnapped earlier Thursday by militants dressed in army uniforms, were found shot dead in an orchard north of Baghdad, security officials said.

The victims, taken from their homes in the predominantly Sunni Arab town of Mishahda, had all suffered gunshots to the head and chest, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Among them were at least five members of one family.

The killings come amid a protracted months-long surge in nationwide unrest that has sparked fears Iraq is on the verge of slipping back into the all-out Sunni-Shiite sectarian war that left tens of thousands dead in 2006 and 2007.

At the peak of sectarian fighting in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion, Sunni and Shiite militias regularly carried out tit-for-tat kidnappings and assassinations and left scores of corpses littering the streets.

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