86 bodies found in Iraq

Violence in Baghdad points toward rising sectarian bloodshed

March 15, 2006|By LOUISE ROUG | LOUISE ROUG,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The bodies of 86 men who had been shot execution-style, tortured or strangled have been found in Sunni and Shiite Muslim neighborhoods of Baghdad during the two days since a bloody attack on Baghdad's largest Shiite slum, authorities said yesterday.

Even for this violent city, the number was unusually high and the deaths particularly grisly, suggesting a further escalation of sectarian bloodshed.

In one shallow grave in a poor Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, police spent hours digging up 29 corpses after a tip from a young boy who had stumbled upon a corpse while playing soccer.

Across town, in a middle-class Sunni area, officers found 15 bodies stuffed inside an abandoned minivan.

In the past few weeks, hundreds of Iraqis have been killed in shootings, bombings and assassinations. Many of the victims are thought to be Sunnis killed in reprisal attacks after the Feb. 22 bombing of the Golden Dome in Samarra, one of the nation's holiest Shiite shrines.

"The path to civil war is available to the Iraqi people, and the path toward freedom and representative government is right there, and they're standing at the crossroads right now," U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace said yesterday at a Pentagon news briefing. He is optimistic the Iraqis "are in fact going to go down the path of prosperity for themselves," he said.

The bodies in the poor Shiite neighborhood of Fadhiliya in eastern Baghdad were found yesterday morning after the soccer-playing youth saw a half-buried corpse and alerted his parents. Police sealed off the area and began exhuming shallow graves.

Five hours later, they had dug up the bodies of 29 men who had been tied up, blindfolded and shot. The blood of some victims was fresh. Eight others appeared to have been killed more than a week ago, officials said. In one grave, police dug up 10 victims wearing only underwear.

In a minivan in a middle-class Sunni neighborhood on the city's west side, officers found the bodies of 15 men who had been blindfolded, tied and strangled.

In predominantly Sunni Mosul, north of the capital, police found three middle-aged men in civilian clothes who had been shot to death.

Yesterday's violence also included a police officer killed by a roadside bomb, an attack on an Iraqi television anchor and the kidnapping of two girls on their way to school, all in the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, officials said.

A roadside bomb killed a Shiite pilgrim near Baquba as he was walking toward the holy city of Karbala, police said.

The U.S. military confirmed yesterday that two soldiers had been killed in Anbar province west of Baghdad the previous day.

In addition to the 46 people found dead yesterday, police said they collected 40 bodies from Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad Monday, including 13 in the vast Shiite slum Sadr City, where the attacks Sunday took place.

The identities of the 86 victims and of their killers are unclear in many cases. Officials estimated that the men ranged in age from 25 to 35. Most of them were found without the national identification cards carried by most Iraqis.

One victim who had identity papers was a 22-year-old Sunni student whose first name was Laith, Agence France-Presse reported.

Baghdad - home to about 5 million of Iraq's 25 million people - is the focal point of violence in the country. But throughout Iraq, the number of civilians killed has risen inexorably since 2003.

Iraqi Body Count, a nongovernmental organization that tracks and collects media reports of civilian deaths, estimates that as of Monday, 33,638 to 37,754 Iraqis, excluding soldiers and suspected insurgents, had been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Mortars, roadside bombs and suicide attackers have caused many of the deaths. But the capital is also rife with clandestine killings that are rarely solved but suggest neighbor increasingly turning on neighbor.

"The first half of 2005 was characterized most of all ... by random car bombings as well as heavy targeting of Iraqi security forces," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "I would say the problem [of sectarian violence] began to get serious in the second half of 2005 and has of course intensified further of late."

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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