BAGHDAD -- When more than 80 bodies, many of them slain Iraqi police officers and soldiers, were found last week at four sites in Iraq, a fifth gruesome discovery attracted little notice.
In the violent city of Ramadi, a center of insurgent activity 60 miles west of Baghdad, the bodies of seven men were found neatly lined up in an unfinished house on the western outskirts of town, according to witnesses. Each had been shot in the head or torso. Some witnesses said the bodies were then secretly buried in a local cemetery.
Witnesses said they never went to the local police or foreign military forces to report finding the bodies, fearing that they would be accused of complicity in the slayings or that the killers would return to punish them for talking.
"I feared telling the Iraqi army because they would detain me and accuse me of being involved in the killings," said Ali Omar, 32, a motorcycle mechanic who found the bodies on the morning of March 12. Instead, he went to Ramadi Hospital and told an emergency room doctor about his discovery, but the doctor refused to get involved. "He told me, 'Why bring problems on yourself? Leave them until they find them,' " Omar said.
Witnesses also said the event went unreported because the dead men were foreigners, all Sunni Muslims and members of al Qaeda in Iraq, the radical group headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi that is at the forefront of the insurgency. Now that details of the slayings have surfaced, Zarqawi is vowing revenge.
"My cousins are the ones who killed them," said Jabbar Khalaf Marawi, 42, a former army officer and Communist Party member in Ramadi. Marawi said the slayings were carried out by members of his Dulaimi clan in retaliation for the killing of a clan leader -- Lt. Col. Sulaiman Ahmed Dulaimi, the Iraqi National Guard commander for Ramadi and Fallujah -- by Zarqawi's group last Oct. 2.
Dulaimi and three bodyguards were traveling through Khaldiyah, a small town east of Ramadi. When their vehicle slowed to navigate a series of concrete blocks placed in the road by U.S. forces, it was suddenly surrounded by a large group of armed men, according to witnesses interviewed at the time. The bodyguards were shot and killed on the spot, and Dulaimi was abducted, they said.
His body was found two days later in a youth center on the shores of Tharthar Lake, 20 miles north of Khaldiyah. Both his legs were broken in multiple places, his fingernails were removed, razor slashes were etched across his back and he had two bullet wounds in his chest, according to his autopsy report.
A statement by Zarqawi's group asserted responsibility for the killing, accusing Dulaimi of being an "agent . . . who works for the Americans." The statement said he had "confessed" to giving U.S. forces information about weak spots in the guerrillas' defenses in southern Fallujah.
Five months later, Omar, the motorcycle mechanic, was walking his three daughters to school. Because of heavy rain, they took a detour through a largely abandoned part of Ramadi's Tamim neighborhood, which had become a hideout for insurgents who fled the November offensive in Fallujah. As they passed an unfinished house, Omar said, they were hit by the unmistakable odor of death. After dropping off his girls, he said, he went back to investigate.
Omar said he found the dead men inside the house. Each appeared to be in his early thirties; all had long beards and were dressed in the traditional dishdasha gown favored by mujaheddin, or holy warriors.
After being rebuffed at the hospital, Omar said, he went to the local mosque, where the imam asked to be led to the scene.
Upon arriving, "the preacher immediately said he knew the people. He said they were from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria mujaheddin," Omar recounted. "He prayed and asked God for mercy. Then he turned his face to me and said, 'Your mission is over. Thank you, you can go home.' "
Omar Karim, 32, said he was with a group of about 10 men at the Right Mosque when the imam, whom he identified as Yassim Abdul Latif, came in "and told us there are some dead bodies belonging to mujaheddin brothers who were killed by agents of the occupiers, and we have to put them in coffins and bury them." They collected the bodies and returned with them to the mosque, Karim said.