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At Least 86 Found Shot Or Strangled In Baghdad

The timing and means of Tuesday's killings raised suspicions that some of the deaths were retaliatory attacks for bombings Sunday evening that killed 58 people in Sadr City. The concerted bombings were among the deadliest of the war in the Shiite enclave and suggested that Sunni insurgents or their allies had made their first inroads into the district, which is policed by Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, whose members number in the thousands.

After the first wave of violence that followed the Feb. 22 mosque bombing, survivors accused black-clad Mahdi fighters of taking away men who were later found dead in Baghdad's morgue. Officials with Sadr's organization denied any role by his militia, and Sadr political leaders and spokesmen on Tuesday denied that there had been any killings in Sadr City on Monday or Tuesday.

The number of execution-style deaths reported by police and news media usually is only a fraction of the total, according to morgue statistics that have shown such killings doubling since the middle of last year. International officials say the morgue -- and the Health Ministry that oversees it and is controlled by Sadr's political bloc -- have been increasingly reluctant to disclose the number of execution-style killings, which are often linked to Shiite militias or the security forces of the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry.

On Tuesday, Health Ministry spokesman Qasim Yahiya said he had no new figures for killings of any sort. The acting morgue director, Qais Hassan, declined to give any figures Tuesday without signed clearance from the Health Ministry. When that was obtained, he declined again to give any figures, saying he was away from his office and did not want to give an incorrect accounting.

A worker outside the morgue said the Health Ministry over the weekend increased from once a week to twice a week its shipments of unclaimed bodies to the southern city of Najaf for burial, sending roughly 150 Friday and about 70 Monday.

Mahdi Army fighters, who have adopted street clothes since people called attention to black-uniformed death squads after the mosque bombing, stood with AK-47 assault rifles and walkie-talkies outside the morgue and at a checkpoint in the neighborhood leading to the mass grave in east Baghdad.

On a main road a few blocks from the mass grave, Ugaili, the black-market vendor, pointed to the spot a few feet away where he said police in pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles had come to collect three blanket-covered bodies. They also retrieved either two or three from the other side of the road, he said. A laborer at the site, Ali Hussein, 19, gave the same account separately.

"It's become normal to find bodies," Ugaili said. "It's every other day."

Also Tuesday, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr amplified in an interview with the Associated Press accounts of what he said was a foiled al-Qaeda plot to overrun Baghdad's Green Zone. Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi gave a similar account Monday, saying that the plot involved more than 400 al-Qaeda fighters allegedly recruited to infiltrate Iraq's army and that it had been discovered with the arrest of one suspect.

U.S. military and civilian spokesmen said they had no information on the alleged plot.

U.S. Army officials also disclosed Tuesday that two men carrying Iraqi police identification and two men carrying identification of Sadr's Mahdi Army were among nine men arrested Monday on suspicion of involvement in a plot to assassinate Iraqi Interior Ministry officials.

A U.S. Army patrol stopped the men in two vehicles for a random search Monday night and found in each vehicle a "list of names and addresses of personnel to shoot on sight. Names on the list included" Interior Ministry officials, Maj. Steve Stover, a deputy public affairs officer with the 4th Infantry Division, said in an e-mail statement.

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