” Masked gunmen attacked gold shops in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 15 people before they fled with a large quantity of gold, police and hospital officials said.

The gunmen came to the southwestern neighbourhood of Baiyaa in five cars shortly before noon, their faces covered with traditional Arab headscarves. They set off a roadside bomb near the shops, killing four bystanders and wounding three, city police officials said.

Then they opened fire on 12 shops, killing nine gold shop owners or their workers and two bystanders. They threw percussion grenades into the shop as a distraction, then fled, police said.

A hospital official confirmed the number of casualties. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

As Iraq’s sectarian violence has ebbed, a new threat from violent crime has cropped up. Tuesday’s attack was one of the deadliest in the upswing.

Many of those involved in the crime wave are believed to be battle—experienced former insurgents unable to find legitimate work. They often bring the same brutality to their crimes that they showed in the fighting that nearly pushed the country to the brink of Sunni—Shiite civil war in 2006 and 2007.

The result has been a wave of thefts and armed robberies, hitting homes, cars, jewelry stores, currency exchanges, pawn shops and banks.

There are few statistics tracking the number and kinds of crimes, in part because the government remains focused on the bombings and other insurgent attacks that continue to plague Baghdad and Iraq’s north.

But in the mind of the public, crime has become at least as consuming as the violence directly related to the war. And like the lack of electricity and other services, crime is now a top complaint of Iraqis.

Some members of Iraq’s security forces are also involved, perhaps a sign that militants are still infiltrating the security services.

In one of the most sensational crimes in recent years, several members of Iraq’s presidential guards” who protect senior officials” broke into the state—run Rafidain Bank on July 28 and stole about 5.6 billion Iraqi dinars, or $4.8 million. They tied up eight guards at the bank in Baghdad’s central Karradah area and shot each one execution—style.

Last year, Iraq created a military task force to battle gangland—style crime after gunmen with silencer—fitted weapons killed at least seven people during a daylight heist of jewelry stores.

More In: International | News