- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

BAGHDAD — Four more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq and police found the bullet-riddled bodies of 28 persons — many thought to be Sunni Arabs — buried in shallow graves or dumped streetside in Baghdad.

The bodies were discovered as the Shi’ite-led government pressed to open disarmament talks with insurgents responsible for a relentless campaign of violence, which has taken on ominous sectarian overtones with recurring tit-for-tat killings.

Laith Kuba, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said many militant groups were reaching out to the government, seeking a place in the political process. He urged them to lay down their arms.

Some insurgents are motivated to end their resistance, Mr. Kuba argued, by the election of an Iraqi government that put the American presence in the background, although its military is still 140,000 strong.

“Now is the right time for any group to lay down their weapons and take part in the [political] process,” he said.

His remarks yesterday followed a report in The Washington Times last week that Sunni insurgents and Iraqi officials would be holding high-level discussions over the weekend.

The government’s offer to disarm and join the political process did not include foreign extremists such as Jordanian-born al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi because “they only want to kill,” Mr. Kuba said.

Four American soldiers died Saturday in two roadside bombings west of Baghdad, increasing the number of U.S. forces killed since the war began in March 2003 to at least 1,701, the U.S. military said yesterday.

Zarqawi’s group has claimed responsibility for multiple suicide bombings, including Saturday’s attack inside Baghdad’s heavily guarded Interior Ministry headquarters. That attack killed at least three persons and targeted the feared Wolf Brigade, a Shi’ite-dominated commando unit that Sunnis claim is killing members of their community, including Muslim clerics.

Yesterday, Gen. Rashid Flaiyeh, who runs all the Interior Ministry elite units including the Wolf Brigade, escaped an apparent assassination attempt when a mortar barrage rained down on his mother’s funeral in northern Baghdad. Eleven mourners were wounded, including two seriously, Lt. Ismael Abdul Sattar said. Gen. Flaiyeh is Interior Minister Bayan Jabr’s security adviser.

Lt. Ayad Othman said a shepherd found the bodies of 20 men on Friday in the Nahrawan desert, 20 miles east of Baghdad.

“All were blindfolded and their hands were tied behind their backs and shot from behind,” Lt. Othman said. “The assassins excavated a hole and buried them inside it and seven were found naked.”

Witnesses said the slain men were Sunnis, according to a statement from the influential Sunni organization, the Association of Muslim Scholars. No details were provided to support the statement, but the association said it had begun an investigation.

Eight other slain men were found shot in the head yesterday in two different locations in Baghdad’s predominantly Shi’ite northern suburb of Shula, police Capt. Majed Abdul Aziz said.

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