- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s president yesterday announced the recovery of more than 50 bodies from the Tigris River, saying the grisly discovery was proof of claims that dozens were abducted from an area south of the capital despite a fruitless search by Iraqi forces.

Northwest of Baghdad, witnesses said 19 bullet-riddled bodies were found slumped against a bloodstained wall in a soccer stadium in Haditha.

The discoveries came as insurgents unleashed a string of attacks that killed at least nine Iraqis and wounded 21.

They included four suicide car bombs — one of which targeted former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s convoy — and a roadside explosion in the capital, police said. Mr. Allawi escaped unharmed, they said.

Another blast sent smoke billowing over Baghdad’s heavily fortified green zone, home to the Iraqi government and foreign embassies. It was not clear what caused that explosion.

President Jalal Talabani did not say when or where the more than 50 bodies were pulled from the river, but he said all had been identified as hostages.

“Terrorists committed crimes there. It is not true to say there were no hostages. There were. They were killed, and they threw the bodies into the Tigris,” Mr. Talabani told reporters. “We have the full names of those who were killed and those criminals who committed these crimes.”

Shi’ite leaders and government officials claimed last week that Sunni militants had abducted as many as 100 Shi’ites from the Madain area, 14 miles southeast of Baghdad.

But when Iraqi forces moved into the town of 1,000 families, they found no captives, and residents said they had seen no evidence that anyone had been seized.

Madain is at the tip of a Sunni militant stronghold known as the Triangle of Death, where there have been numerous retaliatory kidnappings. Police and health officials said victims sometimes are killed and dumped into the river.

As the seasons change and temperatures start to rise, bodies have been floating to the surface, said Dr. Falah al-Permani of the Swera district health department.

He said about 50 bodies have been recovered over the past three weeks. But it was not clear whether they were the bodies to which Mr. Talabani was referring.

In Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, taxi drivers Rauf Salih and Ousama Halim said they heard gunshots and rushed to the stadium. There they found 19 bloodied bodies lined up against a wall, the two men and an Iraqi reporter said. All appeared to have been shot.

Residents said they thought the victims — all men in civilian clothes — were troops abducted by insurgents as they headed home for a holiday marking the birthday of the prophet Muhammad.

The reporter did not see any military identification documents on the bodies, and it was not possible to verify the claim. In October, insurgents ambushed and killed about 50 unarmed Iraqi soldiers as they headed home from a U.S. military training camp northeast of Baghdad.

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