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16 Sadr Loyalists Killed in Assault

Men and boys clear debris in Baghdad after a blast outside their house killed a woman and wounded two of her sisters, as well as a man who lived next door.
Men and boys clear debris in Baghdad after a blast outside their house killed a woman and wounded two of her sisters, as well as a man who lived next door. (By Karim Kadim -- Associated Press)

The clash in the Iraqi capital was one of several incidents Sunday that had potentially far-reaching political ramifications. Also in Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi forces stormed an Interior Ministry detention facility and found 17 foreign prisoners. News services reported that as many as 40 police officers were detained in the operation, which came after pledges by U.S. commanders to crack down on abuse of detainees following recent disclosures of torture in at least two Iraqi-run prisons.

The aide to Jafari said that no evidence of torture was found and that the prisoners included Sudanese, Egyptians and other Arab nationals, all of whom were awaiting deportation because they lacked proper identification. A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, said he had "no releasable information" on the incident.

Elsewhere in Iraq, army and medical officials in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, said 30 headless bodies were discovered at 6:30 p.m. in a deserted brush area in Tarfiya, a village outside Baqubah, 35 miles from the capital.

Tariq Shallal Hiyali, deputy director of the provincial health department, said all of the bodies were male.

In an unrelated case also in Diyala province, a source in the Iraqi Interior Ministry said Sunday that a security officer had been arrested about three days earlier and charged with heading a criminal gang whose members dressed as security officers to kidnap and kill people. The official, who would not be quoted by name, identified the arrested man as Arkan Mohammed al-Bawi, 32. He said Bawi had confessed during interrogation that his gang members wore police uniforms stolen during attacks on police checkpoints and that they had killed "many people."

The Reuters news service reported that Bawi was a police major and that his brother is the chief of police in Diyala province.

Iraq has been plagued by incidents in which gunmen dressed as security officers have abducted and killed civilians. Sunni politicians have charged that the groups are targeting Sunni Arabs and are being harbored by the Shiite-led Interior Ministry, an allegation denied by the Iraqi government.

Also on Sunday, at least 10 more bodies were found in three places in the capital, an official in the Baghdad police operations room said on condition of anonymity. Five had their hands bound and had been shot in the head, and five showed signs of torture and had been shot in the chest and stomach, he said. All were unidentified men between the ages of 20 and 40, he said.

Meanwhile, in an incident apparently unrelated to the clashes involving his followers in Baghdad, Sadr escaped injury when two mortar shells struck near his Najaf home while he was inside.

Mustafa Yacoubi, a top aide to Sadr in Najaf, said the shells appeared to have been fired at close range from another house in the neighborhood, an area in northeastern Najaf that is controlled by Sadr's Mahdi Army. Angry followers of the young cleric surrounded Sadr's home after the attack.

The cleric, who is believed to be in his thirties, issued a statement calling for calm among his followers, who have been accused of deadly retaliatory attacks on Sunnis following other provocations, which Sadr often blames on the West.

"I call upon my brothers not to be dragged into the West's plots," he said in the statement. "Everybody should stay calm."

Correspondent Ellen Knickmeyer and special correspondents Naseer Nouri and Saad al-Izzy in Baghdad, Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Hassan Shammari in Baqubah contributed to this report.

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