BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Gunmen using silenced weapons attacked at least nine liquor stores in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 12 people, police and medical sources said.
Police sources said the attack targeted a row of stores selling alcohol in Zayona district of eastern Baghdad, which has a majority Shi'ite population.
Even though most people shun alcohol, forbidden under Islamic law, Iraq is a generally less conservative Muslim society than neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, thanks to its mix of Shi'ites, Sunnis, ethnic Kurds and Christians.
But Islamist parties have risen to the fore since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 after the U.S.-led invasion and many fear they could encourage hardline Islamists to exert more influence over aspects of Iraqi life.
Saddam legally allowed shops to sell alcohol, although bars and nightclubs were banned towards the end of his rule.
"Gunmen in four SUV vehicles stopped near the liquor stores and gunmen equipped with silenced weapons started shooting at everybody near the stores," Furat Ahmed, a policeman at the scene, said.
Police and medical sources said at least nine customers and three liquor store owners were killed, and three others were seriously wounded.
Violence is still well below its height in 2006-7, but provisional figures from rights group Iraq Body Count put violent deaths in April at more than 400 - the highest monthly toll since 2009. About 1,500 people have been killed this year.
(Reporting by Kareem Raheem; Wriring by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by)