50 bodies recovered from Tigris, says Iraqi president

Thursday, April 21, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- For days, Iraq was shaken by claims that Sunni militants had abducted as many as 100 Shiites from an area at the tip of Iraq's "Triangle of Death."

Shiite leaders and government officials warned of a major sectarian conflict, only to see the reports evaporate when Iraqi security forces swept throught the area and found no hostages.

On Wednesday, Iraq's interim president announced he had proof: 50 bodies recovered from the Tigris River.

And northwest of Baghdad, witnesses said 19 bullet-riddled bodies were found slumped against a bloodstained wall in a soccer stadium in Haditha.

The discoveries came as insurgents unleashed a string of attacks that killed at least nine Iraqis and wounded 21. They included four suicide car bombs -- one of which targeted interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's convoy -- and a roadside explosion in the capital, police said. Allawi escaped unharmed, they said.

Another blast sent smoke billowing over Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the Iraqi government and foreign embassies. It was not clear what caused that explosion.

The country's most feared terror group, al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed responsibility for two of the Baghdad attacks in a series of statements posted on a militant Web site. It was not possible to verify the claim.

Interim President Jalal Talabani did not say when or where the 50 bodies were pulled from the river, but he said all had been identified as hostages.

"Terrorists committed crimes there. It is not true to say there were no hostages. There were. They were killed, and they threw the bodies into the Tigris," Talabani told reporters. "We have the full names of those who were killed and those criminals who committed these crimes."

Shiite leaders and government officials claimed last week that Sunni militants had abducted as many as 100 Shiites from the Madain area, 14 miles southeast of Baghdad. But when Iraqi forces moved into the town of 1,000 families, they found no captives, and residents said they had seen no evidence anyone had been seized.

Madain is at the tip of a Sunni militant stronghold known as the "Triangle of Death," where there have been numerous retaliatory kidnappings. Police and health officials said victims are sometimes killed and dumped in the river.

As summer approaches and temperatures start to rise, bodies have been floating to the surface, said Dr. Falah al-Permani of the Swera district health department. He said some 50 bodies have been recovered over the past three weeks. But it was not clear whether they were the bodies referred to by Talabani.

In Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, taxi drivers Rauf Salih and Ousama Halim said they heard gunshots and rushed to the stadium. There they found 19 bloodied bodies lined up against a wall, the two men and an Iraqi reporter said. All appeared to have been gunned down.

Residents said they believed the victims -- all men in civilian clothes -- were soldiers abducted by insurgents as they headed home for a holiday marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

The reporter did not see any military identification documents on the bodies, and it was not possible to verify the claim. In October, insurgents ambushed and killed about 50 unarmed Iraqi soldiers as they headed home from a U.S. military training camp northeast of Baghdad.

The U.S. military said it could not confirm killings at the stadium. The only report American forces had received from Haditha by late Wednesday was that insurgents ransacked a television and radio station in the area, the military said.

The Iraqi military also had no immediate information.

Insurgent violence has surged in the past week, especially in the capital, where Shiite and Kurdish leaders met Wednesday to try to negotiate a Cabinet that will also include members of the Sunni minority. Talabani, a former Kurdish rebel leader, said officials hope to announce the new government Thursday.

Sunnis make up 15 to 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, but dominated under former leader Saddam Hussein. Sunnis are believed to form the backbone of the insurgency that developed after U.S.-led forces ousted Saddam two years ago.

Three suicide car bombs exploded in Baghdad on Wednesday morning. The first detonated near a U.S. convoy in western Baghdad, setting an oil tanker on fire, said police Maj. Moussa Abdulkarim. Two Iraqis were killed and five wounded, hospital official Hussam Abdulrazaq said.

The two other car bombs exploded in southern Baghdad. One missed a police convoy but hit a civilian car, killing two Iraqis and wounding four, said police Capt. Falah al-Muhamadwai. The other exploded in a parking lot near a police station, wounding four civilians, police Lt. Hassan Falah said.

Three more heavy explosions rocked the capital after dark, including a suicide car bomb that detonated near a police checkpoint as Allawi's convoy drove home, police Capt. Talib Thamer said. One policeman was killed and two were wounded, he said. Bursts of gunfire were heard after the explosion.

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