Bodies of 76 men found in Baghdad

Day's shooting toll is highest

bloodshed continues

December 21, 2006|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Molly Hennessy-Fiske,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The bodies of 76 unidentified people were recovered in Baghdad yesterday, police said, the highest 24-hour toll so far for the anonymous slayings that have become a grim part of life in the capital.

All of the victims were men, ages 20 to 50. Although they died violently, all shot with automatic weapons, the men were not slain execution-style as is often the case these days - no handcuffs or blindfolds, morgue staff said. Only a few showed signs of torture.

And they were not the only bodies delivered to the morgue yesterday.

There were victims of drive-by shootings, assassinations and bombings, police said. The corpses included a Yarmuk Hospital morgue worker who usually receives the dead. In all, an additional 26 Iraqis were killed around the country during the day, most of them in the capital.

Two U.S. soldiers also were killed by separate roadside bomb explosions yesterday. One soldier died while investigating an explosion on foot with a combat patrol southwest of the capital, the military said. Another soldier died after an explosion near his vehicle during a road-clearing mission in southern Baghdad. Six soldiers were wounded in the explosions.

Four bombs rocked the capital during the day with explosions loud enough to send jittery residents to their windows to see cars speeding from the scenes and plumes of black smoke visible from miles away.

The first came at 7 a.m. when a large suicide car bomb exploded at an Iraqi police checkpoint near the entrance to Baghdad University. The blast killed 11 people, including six Iraqi police officers, and injured at least two dozen, police said.

Students had crowded the area during the morning rush, police said. Buses had pulled into the street, full of Muslim pilgrims on their way to the Saudi city of Mecca via Baghdad International Airport. Investigators believe the bomber intended to target the pilgrims. Later, state-run Al Iraqiya television announced that pilgrims' buses traveling to the airport would be rerouted.

Another suicide car bomb exploded at 9:45 a.m. near the government passport office at Kasra Market in northeast Baghdad. Security guards stopped the car before it entered the crowded market, and the driver detonated the bomb, killing one person and injuring four, police said.

Gunmen opened fire on a bus terminal about 3:10 p.m., concentrating on buses headed to the mostly Shiite areas of Sadr City, Talibiya, Husseiniya and Shaab, police said. Three people were killed and at least seven injured, police said.

Gunmen also targeted three teachers yesterday.

Palestinian teacher Mahmoud Mohammed Rasheed, brother of Iraqi television star Zuhair Mohammed Rasheed, was killed in an eastern Baghdad neighborhood where he taught middle school, police said. Investigators say Rasheed might have been targeted for being Palestinian, or attackers might have mistaken him for his famous brother, who stars in a popular sketch comedy.

Gunmen also attacked professor Ali Arnoosi, deputy dean of the college of law at the University of Baghdad, and fellow law professor Mohammed Hamdani, police said. The two were slain at 3 p.m. as they were on their way home. Their driver and guard were also killed.

In the northern city of Mosul, gunmen killed five people in five different neighborhoods, according to police spokesman Brig. Gen. Said Ahmed.

In Kut, south of Baghdad, gunmen also killed Jamhooryia Aozaiyab, a former member of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party and a leader in the Baathist Iraqi Women's Union, police said. The gunmen opened fire on Aozaiyab near her home.

Elsewhere in the south, six farmers were kidnapped at a makeshift checkpoint in the morning. They were attempting to drive two trucks full of fruits and vegetables north from the mostly Shiite village of Lijij, about 15 miles south of Baghdad, to the city of Swaira when they were taken, their trucks abandoned, police said.

The U.S. military announced yesterday that coalition soldiers on Dec. 14 captured an al-Qaida leader suspected of attacks last year in Baghdad and Mosul that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, including the downing of a coalition helicopter, kidnappings and suicide car bombings. The leader was identified in the military statement only as "The Military Emir of Mosul" and, later, "The Military Emir of Karkh."

Supporters of a leading Shiite cleric said he has not yet decided to back a U.S.-sponsored coalition of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish parties bent on opposing extremists. Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his aides were in Mecca yesterday and did not issue any statements supporting the coalition. Two other high-ranking Shiite clerics, Ishaq Fayyad and Basheer Najafi, endorsed the coalition on Radio Sawa, a U.S.-funded Baghdad radio station.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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