-- A French journalist and her Iraqi interpreter were freed Sunday after being held hostage for more than five months "under very severe conditions" here in the Iraqi capital.
Florence Aubenas, a foreign correspondent who covered conflicts in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Algeria and Afghanistan for the French newspaper Liberation, was immediately flown to France, where officials said she appeared to be in good health. Hussein Hanoun Saadi, who was abducted with Aubenas on Jan. 5, returned to his family in Baghdad.
Outside Baghdad, meanwhile, police unearthed 20 bodies from a shallow, common grave Sunday, and eight more bodies were found in the city -- grisly discoveries more familiar to Iraq's western desert and northern cities than to the capital.
In western Iraq, roadside bombings killed four American soldiers, the military announced. Two of the soldiers were killed Saturday during a combat operation about 45 miles west of Baghdad, according to a statement, and the other two were killed the same day in combat about 20 miles southwest of the capital, near Amariyah. All four were Army troops attached to Marine units, the statement said.
Aubenas, 44, was flown to a military airfield outside Paris, where she was greeted by French President Jacques Chirac and by members of her family and friends.
"I would like to thank the French people, the presidents, the ministers and all of those who have helped me return to France. Thank you all," she told journalists soon after her arrival. "How do I feel? Well, much, much better. When you are there, you do what you can. I was held in a basement with Hussein, under very severe conditions."
Aubenas's kidnappers have not been identified, and no details were disclosed about her release. Bernard Bajolet, the French ambassador to Iraq, called it "a dangerous operation that was carried out with remarkable professionalism." Jean-Francois Copet, a spokesman for the French government, said "absolutely no amount of money was exchanged for their release."
Benoit Aubenas, the freed hostage's father, said in an interview following her arrival in France: "I have found her in very good spirits. It's an incredible joy to see my daughter again, and to see her unchanged, as she has always been -- healthy, funny, energetic and full of force. It is really the most beautiful thing that could happen on this day."
Hundreds of Iraqis and foreigners have been kidnapped in the course of this country's nearly two-year-old insurgency. A handful of foreigners, including at least four Americans, have been executed by the group al Qaeda in Iraq and others bent on toppling Iraq's fledgling government and driving out the foreign troops that defend it.
Whoever abducted Aubenas and Hanoun did not publicly issue any political statements or demands, and French officials have said they believe the kidnapping was carried out by common criminals rather than insurgents.
A Romanian journalist who was freed last month by Iraqi kidnappers after nearly two months in captivity told the Associated Press on Sunday that he and two other Romanian reporters were held in a cellar alongside Aubenas. "We managed to whisper together in English," said Ovidiu Ohanesian, a reporter for Romania Libera. "I have total admiration for Florence. She is the strongest person I have ever met."
In Iraq, the buried bodies of the 20 men were found in the desert 20 miles east of Baghdad. A Defense Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said none of the victims had been identified. All had their hands tied behind their backs, and their bodies were partially decomposed, suggesting that they had been buried "a while ago," the official said.
A police officer quoted by the Associated Press said the bodies had been found Friday by a shepherd and that all the victims had been shot in the head.
In Baghdad's Shula neighborhood, where a suicide bombing killed 10 Iraqis Friday night and where U.S. troops fatally shot two on Saturday, police discovered five bodies on Sunday, an Interior Ministry official said. A sixth man was found alive and taken to a hospital.
"His condition didn't allow us to question him," said the official, who declined to be identified. "We are waiting until he gets well and is able to speak to ask him what happened and who did it."
Not far from Shula, in the neighborhood of Hurriyah, insurgents fired mortar shells Sunday evening at a funeral for the mother of a top Iraqi security official, news services reported. Thirteen people were wounded in the attack on the home of army Maj. Gen. Rashid Fleya, a security adviser to Interior Minister Bayan Jabr.
The Interior Ministry official said three more bodies were found Saturday on the other side of Baghdad, in the southern district of Dora. All three had been shot to death. Two of the victims were brothers, and the third was a laborer.
Insurgents frequently have abducted and killed soldiers and police in the far west and around the northern cities of Mosul and Tall Afar, burying their bodies in mass graves or dumping them in the desert. But such incidents have been comparatively rare in Baghdad.
The discoveries Sunday in the capital came two days after as many as 21 bodies were found near Qaim, a town near Iraq's western border with Syria. Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed that the victims were kidnapped Iraqi soldiers, but the Defense Ministry denied that any soldiers were missing.
Al Qaeda in Iraq posted fliers on mosque walls around the western city of Ramadi on Sunday asserting responsibility for suicide bombings the previous day in Baghdad at the Slovak Embassy and the headquarters of a police counterterrorism brigade.
Bonetti reported from Paris. Special correspondent Naseer Nouri in Baghdad contributed to this report.