At Least 86 Found Shot Or Strangled In Baghdad

By Ellen Knickmeyer and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 15, 2006

BAGHDAD, March 14 -- Asked for directions to one newly found pile of bodies in Baghdad, Haider Latif Ugaili, an 18-year-old black-market gasoline vendor, replied: That one's over there. But we found three bodies here this morning.

Daylight Tuesday brought the discovery of at least 86 shot or strangled men across the city, most of them with hands tied and many of them tortured, according to police. They included 27 corpses in one of the first mass graves to be found in the capital since the U.S. invasion three years ago.

The day's high toll -- of execution-style killings involving large numbers of victims, rather than the bombing deaths that have characterized insurgent attacks and dominated violence in Iraq for more than two years -- appeared linked to escalating cycles of sectarian slaughter since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra. The toll since the bombing is nearing 1,000, according to government figures; four Iraqi and international officials tracking the toll say it topped that figure in the first week after the Samarra bombing.

Tuesday's body count went largely without note in public statements by Iraqi leaders, including Shiite and other political figures who convened in a heavily guarded meeting in Baghdad meant to help efforts to form a government, one day shy of three months after national elections. A Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Mohammed, said the day's victims included Shiites and Sunnis and called the killings "a premeditated attempt to incite civil war."

The mass grave was found in a former Gypsy enclave bordering a heavily Shiite neighborhood on the eastern edge of Baghdad. A police spokesman, Col. Hadi Hasan, said the victims were men ages 25 to 40. All were found with their hands tied and wearing civilian clothes, Hasan said. They appeared to have been killed two to 10 days ago, police said.

Children playing soccer discovered the grave by its smell, police separately told the Reuters news agency.

In the west Baghdad neighborhood of Khadra, near a school, police found a minibus containing the bodies of 10 men. "Some of them were shot and some were choked by ropes," Hasan said.

A minibus in the western Sunni neighborhood of Amiriyah contained the corpses of eight men, and Hasan said all had been bound, blindfolded and shot.

In Rustamiya, a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, authorities found five men shot dead and covered by blankets, Hasan said.

Authorities picked up the bodies of 11 men in the mixed southern neighborhood of Madean. All wore the dishdasha , or traditional Arab dress, Hasan said.

In Kasrah Atash, in southern Baghdad, killers left the bodies of seven men by the side of the road. The men had been tortured and shot, Hasan said, adding that a piece of paper left with the bodies stated: "The fate of traitors."

Iraqi police also found more than 15 corpses Tuesday morning in Sadr City, according to Capt. Ahmed al-Ani, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. Sadr City is a trash-strewn, dusty urban district that is home to 2 million Shiites, overwhelmingly loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, a young Shiite cleric and militia leader.

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