65 Tortured Bodies Found Around Baghdad
By PATRICK QUINN
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - The leader of Iraq's biggest Sunni Arab group demanded Wednesday that the beleaguered Shiite-led government take steps to disarm militias after police said the bodies of 65 tortured men were dumped in and around Baghdad.
On a violent day even by the standards of Baghdad, car bombs, mortars and other attacks also killed at least 39 people and wounded dozens. Two U.S. soldiers also were killed, one in enemy action in restive Anbar province on Monday and the other in a roadside bombing south of Baghdad on Tuesday, the U.S. military command said.
The attacks have been unrelenting despite a security crackdown around the capital by 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops. The more than 1,500 violent deaths last month at the height of the joint operation speak to the difficulties in restoring any semblance of security to this sprawling city of 6 million people.
Although Sunni Arabs operate some death squads, the vast majority are run by Shiite militias and gangs.
Shiite political groups, including those in power, claim that armed militias have nothing to do with them and that their own military wings were disarmed months ago and turned into social and humanitarian groups. They claim that armed groups and militias are "rogue" elements beyond their control, but many Sunni Arabs contend that they are in fact controlled by Shiite politicians and clerics.
Adnan al-Dulaimi, a Sunni who heads the Iraqi Accordance Front political party, called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, to take a first step by honoring a pledge to disband militias.
"We hope the government carries out what it pledged and disbands militias and considers them terrorist organizations," al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press. His party is Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political bloc and holds 44 seats in the 275-member parliament.
"Their presence is deteriorating the situation and bringing more troubles to the political atmosphere," al-Dulaimi said of militias. "We call upon all religious authorities to raise their voices and demand militias be disarmed."
Police said 60 of the bodies were found overnight around Baghdad, with the majority dumped in predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhoods.
All the bodies were bound, bore signs of torture and had been shot, police said. Such killings are usually the work of death squads who kidnap people and usually torture them with power drills, or beat them, before shooting them execution-style with a bullet to the head.
The U.S. military said it could not confirm all the executions and that their body count so far was lower than that reported by police.
"It is looking like about a 50 percent discrepancy on execution-style killings so far," said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, chief of the media relations division for the Multi-National Corps-Iraq.
The reason for the difference was not immediately clear. The confusion over numbers underscores the difficulty of obtaining accurate death tolls in Iraq, which lacks the reporting and tracking systems of most modern nations. Also, counts by the U.S. military often lag behind those of the police.
According to Iraqi police, 45 of the bodies were discovered in predominantly Sunni Arab parts of western Baghdad. Fifteen were found in predominantly Shiite areas of eastern Baghdad. And five were found floating down the Tigris river in Suwayrah, just south of Baghdad.
In the two bloodiest attacks in the capital, a car bombing killed at least 19 people and wounded more than 62 in a large square used mostly as a parking lot near the main headquarters of Baghdad's traffic police department.
In eastern Baghdad, a parked car bomb exploded next to an Iraqi police patrol in the Zayona neighborhood, killing at least 12 people and wounding 34.
It is believed that some Shiite parties with militias accused of involvement in sectarian killings have support from neighboring Iran. Those parties are also allied with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.
Al-Maliki, on a visit to Iran on Wednesday, pressed Tehran to stop interference that is having a "negative" impact on his country's security, his spokesman said in an unusual criticism of an ally with which Baghdad's ties are getting closer.
As al-Maliki met with Iranian leaders for a second day, no public mention was made on the issue of interference. Instead, the Iraqi prime minister and Iranian officials exchanged warm vows of growing friendship.
In Baghdad, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said al-Maliki underlined that "we want the best of relations with Iran and we don't want interference in our internal affairs."
Al-Dabbagh suggested that funding was coming from Iran to groups in Iraq, which he did not identify.
"There is interference coming from neighboring countries and it has negative implications for the situation in Iraq," he told the AP in a telephone interview. "We want to bar financing for certain parties."
"Iran has shown it will help, and we want to see implementation of that," he said.
Sunni Arabs fear more sectarian violence will break out if the largest Shiite political bloc in parliament moves to establish autonomous regions as part of a federal Iraq.
Iraq's parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, urged that a bill drafted by the dominant Shiite United Iraqi Alliance not be submitted until parliament amends the country's new constitution, a process that could drag on for months.
American, British and U.N. officials were also said to be urging a postponement.
Sunni Arabs vehemently oppose the bill, saying it could split the country into three distinct sectarian and ethnic regions that would deprive them of the country's oil wealth.
Federalism is already part of Iraq's new constitution and there is an autonomous Kurdish region in the north. However, special legislation and a referendum would be needed to turn Iraq into a full federation.
Shiite leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance were sending delegations to Najaf to meet with radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and other prominent Shiites who do not fully support the legislation _ but for different reasons than the Sunnis'. Al-Sadr, for example, wants the issue to be discussed only after U.S. troops leave Iraq.
Associated Press reporters Sameer N. Yacoub and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Cairo, Egypt, contributed to this report.