En gruppe irakiske gjetere drev tilfeldigvis saueflokken på flere tusen dyr inn på sunni-område. Da dukket mennene i pickuper opp, og tok med seg 22 gjetere og alle sauene.

Heavily armed gunmen on Wednesday abducted 22 Shiite shepherds who were tending thousands of sheep and had wandered into a dangerous Sunni area west of Baghdad, while six power plant workers were gunned down in northern Iraq.

The attacks reflected the spread of sectarian violence outside Baghdad as violence declines in the capital, where a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown is in its eighth week.

The shepherds had traveled from the Shiite holy city of Karbala to a greener stretch of land in the vast area around Amariyah, some 25 miles west of Baghdad in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, Karbala police spokesman Rahman Mishawi said.

A shepherd who escaped the attack said about 20 men with automatic rifles drove up in vehicles and opened fire on the group as their several thousand sheep were grazing.

«I suddenly realized that we must be near Amariyah and that Sunnis were attacking us,» he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. «Six of us were able to flee in our pickup but unfortunately they kidnapped 22 friends of mine and stole our sheep.»

Jassim al-Wandi, a relative of one of the kidnap victims, appealed for their release.

«They are peaceful people and very easygoing. What was their sin that could justify stealing their animals on which their daily life depends?» he said.

22 Shiite shepherds kidnapped in Iraq