BAGHDAD, March 9 -- The bodies of at least 39 people, some beheaded and many handcuffed and shot, were found in two separate locations in Iraq, security officials said Wednesday, and a suicide bombing outside a major hotel in Baghdad wounded 30 American contractors.
U.S. forces found the bodies of 26 Iraqis, all dressed in civilian clothes, in a remote area outside the desert town of Qaim, about 200 miles west of Baghdad and 10 miles from the Syrian border, authorities said. A Qaim police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said most of the dead were members of the Iraqi Interior Ministry's specially trained rapid-response team.
An Iraqi soldier stands guard at the site of a suicide bombing in Baghdad that wounded 30 American contractors.
(Khalid Mohammed -- AP)
Video: A garbage truck, laden with explosives, killed at least three people and injured 40 more in a Baghdad suicide attack.
Later in the day, at least 13 bodies, many of them headless, were found in the town of Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad in a region known as the "triangle of death," according to an Interior Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said the dead "were presumed to be members of the National Guard" or Iraqi army.
Jasmin Mohammed Kubaisi, 42, a shepherd, said he watched as U.S. forces discovered the bodies in Qaim in a secluded area used for grazing cattle. The victims had been blindfolded, handcuffed behind their backs and shot in the back and head.
"We knew about the bodies since a week ago," Kubaisi said. He and others in the area did not tell anyone, he said, fearing that they would be attacked if they informed the Americans, who are responsible for patrolling the region near the Syrian border.
A doctor at Qaim Hospital, who would not give his name, said that the facility received 19 bodies and that "all of them were killed more than a week ago."
The incident spooked local troops, according to Ismael Kadhum, a 23-year-old soldier from Baghdad stationed in Qaim. "We are all waiting for death like the moon waiting for sunset," Kadhum said in a telephone interview. "We don't know whose turn will be next."
Few details were available about the incident in Latifiyah. In an interview with the Associated Press, Iraqi Capt. Sabah Yassin said 15 headless bodies were found in a building at an abandoned army base. He said that the dead comprised 10 men, 3 women and 2 children and that some of the men might have been part of a group of Iraqi soldiers kidnapped in the area two weeks ago.
In a day marked by violence, an unidentified U.S. soldier was killed and another was injured in Baghdad when a homemade bomb exploded, and two bodyguards were killed in an attempt to assassinate Iraq's planning minister. In the southern city of Basra, an Iraqi policeman was killed in a roadside bombing.
No Americans suffered life-threatening injuries in the bombing near Baghdad's Sadeer Hotel, according to the U.S. Embassy. The blast was set off between the hotel and Iraq's Agriculture Ministry, and police said the attack demonstrated that insurgents were improving coordination of their operations.
Ali Hussein, a police officer on the scene, said witnesses told him the assault began when gunmen opened fire on two government security guards posted outside the ministry building. Shortly afterward, a garbage truck, apparently packed with explosives and being driven by two men wearing police uniforms, raced into the area and exploded in a massive fireball.
"There were other insurgents shooting at the ministry guards, giving the truck a chance to enter the parking lot between the hotel and the ministry, and the guards were shooting at them trying to stop them, but they couldn't," Hussein said.
The blast blew out windows in nearby buildings, destroyed about 20 cars and sent a huge stream of black smoke billowing over Baghdad's morning skyline. Flaming debris littered the streets, and shrapnel was sprayed for 300 yards. A deep crater marked the spot where the explosion occurred.
Three people, including at least one of the guards, were killed in the incident, and at least 40 were injured. The U.S. Embassy statement said four Americans were airlifted out of the country for medical treatment.