Market, police bus blasts kill 25 in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgent car bombs struck a market and a police bus Friday, killing at least 25 people, and a dozen bodies were uncovered in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Baghdad — some victims blindfolded and shot execution-style.
Also Friday, Iraqi militants holding an Australian engineer hostage issued a 72-hour ultimatum for Australia to start pulling its troops out of Iraq.
The latest insurgent attacks were part of a surge in violence that has killed more than 270 people — many of them Iraqi soldiers and police — since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his new government April 28.
Representatives of al-Jaafari's Shiite-dominated alliance planned to meet with Sunni Arab leaders Saturday to discuss candidates for defense minister and six other unfilled posts.
Al-Jaafari hopes to win over the Sunni minority, which is believed to be driving the insurgency, by increasing their participation in his government. But Shiite leaders have rejected many Sunni candidates because of ties to Saddam Hussein's regime, which brutally repressed Shiites and Kurds. Only four Sunnis are included in the 37-member Cabinet.
The bodies, the latest in a series of gruesome finds, were discovered by scavengers sifting through garbage for scrap metal and other items to sell at a dump on Baghdad's northeastern outskirts, police and soldiers said.
An Associated Press photographer saw U.S. military, Iraqi police and soldiers at the scene, along with three ambulances.
There were conflicting accounts of how many bodies were found. Bassim al-Maslokhi, a soldier who was guarding the area during the recovery, counted 14; Kadhim al-Itabi, a local police chief, put the number at 12.
The victims, believed to be Iraqis, were found in shallow graves and seemed to have been killed recently, al-Maslokhi said. Some were blindfolded and had been shot in the head, he said.
At Baghdad's central morgue, an official said 12 bodies had been received. Families identified some of the victims as farmers who disappeared recently on their way to a market to sell their produce, said the official, Rahoumi Jassim.
An influential association of Sunni clerics, the Association of Muslim Scholars, claimed the victims were Sunnis from the Madain region, 12 miles southeast of the capital. But police said they found no identification documents on the bodies.
Madain is at the tip of a notorious insurgent stronghold known as the Triangle of Death, which has seen frequent retaliatory kidnappings and killings between Shiite and Sunni groups.
Last month, scores of bodies were pulled from the Tigris River near Madain, and President Jalal Talabani claimed they were evidence of mass kidnappings and killings of Shiites. But when Iraqi security forces raided the town, no hostages were found.
In nearby Suwayrah, 25 miles south of the capital, a suicide car bombing at a market killed 17 civilians and wounded 46, police, hospital and government officials said.
Such attacks often target U.S. military patrols, Iraqi security forces or mosques, but police said there were no obvious targets Friday.
In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, a car packed with explosives — and with a taxi sign on its roof — destroyed a police minibus, said U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Brian Thomas and Iraqi army Maj. Salman Abdul Wahid.
The attack at a checkpoint on the eastern outskirts of Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, killed at least eight policemen, said police Lt. Col. Saad Abdul Hamid.
Elsewhere, two insurgents fired at American soldiers on patrol in south Baghdad, and one militant was killed in the return fire, the U.S. military said.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have hit back at insurgents with a series of raids. The U.S. military said Friday that coalition and Iraqi forces have captured or killed hundreds of followers of Iraq's most-wanted militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in recent months, including 20 top lieutenants and other senior members of his al-Qaida in Iraq terror group.
Iraq's government said the Feb. 20 capture of an al-Zarqawi driver and the seizure of the leader's computer have yielded information on senior officials in the terror network and funding it received from abroad. No details were released.
In the holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, gunfire broke out outside a mosque controlled by followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Five people were wounded, worshippers and a military official said.
An official in al-Sadr's Najaf office, Fadhel Mohammed, accused Iraqi security forces of firing at worshippers as they left the mosque chanting slogans in support of their leader. Iraqi army Maj. Jassim Mohammed said the worshippers threw stones at the soldiers, who fired in the air to disperse the crowd.
Both sides played down the incident, saying they did not want it to escalate. Al-Sadr's followers launched two major uprisings last year, but have remained quiet since signing agreements with U.S. authorities in August.
Arab television station Al-Jazeera aired new footage of the Australian hostage Douglas Wood, and said the militants holding him gave Australia 72 hours to start withdrawing its forces from Iraq. It did not say what the militants would do if their deadline isn't met.
In the footage, the 63-year-old California resident, who suffers from a serious heart condition, is shown with his head shaven and rifles pointed at him. Australia's government has said it will ignore demands to remove its 1,370 troops.
Wood's brother, Malcolm Wood, issued a statement on behalf of the family appealing to the captors to release him unharmed.
"We do not believe Douglas's captivity, or this ultimatum, will make any difference to the policy of the Australian government," Malcolm Wood said.
Al-Jazeera also aired footage Friday purporting to show six Jordanian hostages captured by a different militant group demanding that all Jordanian companies stop cooperating with U.S. forces. The authenticity of the video could not be verified.
More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since Saddam was ousted in April 2003. Some have been seized for ransom, others have been used to pursue political goals. More than 30 have been killed by their captors.