- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraqi authorities found 41 decomposed bodies — some bullet-riddled, others beheaded — at sites near the Syrian border and south of the capital, and said yesterday they included women and children who may have been killed because insurgents thought their families were collaborating with U.S. forces.

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber driving a garbage truck loaded with explosives and at least one other gunman shot their way into a parking lot in an attempt to blow up a hotel used by Western contractors. At least four persons, including the attackers and a guard, were killed.

The U.S. Embassy said 30 Americans were among 40 persons wounded in the blast. In an Internet statement, al Qaeda in Iraq purportedly took responsibility for the attack on the Sadeer hotel, calling it the “hotel of the Jews.”

Iraq’s interim planning minister, Mahdi al-Hafidh, a Shi’ite, narrowly escaped death yesterday after gunmen opened fire on his convoy in the capital. Two of his bodyguards were killed and two others were wounded.

A U.S. soldier was killed and another was injured yesterday when a roadside bomb detonated as they were patrolling in the capital, the military said.

Authorities found 26 of the corpses late Tuesday in a field near Rumana, a village about 12 miles east of the western city of Qaim, near the Syrian border, police Capt. Muzahim al-Karbouli and other officials said.

Each of the bodies had been riddled with bullets — apparently several days earlier. They were found wearing civilian clothes and one of the dead was a woman, Capt. al-Karbouli said.

South of Baghdad in Latifiyah, Iraqi troops on Tuesday found 15 headless bodies in a building inside an abandoned former army base, Defense Ministry Capt. Sabah Yassin said. The bodies included 10 men, three women and two children.

The violence came a day after the U.S. military announced it was speeding up an inquiry into the death of an Italian agent fatally shot Friday by U.S. troops at a Baghdad checkpoint. The agent was escorting Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena to the airport just after insurgents freed her.

In Rome, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in his first major address since the shooting, told parliament that intelligence officer Nicola Calipari had U.S. military authorization for his operation to win the release of Miss Sgrena. He said the incident is “painful” to accept, but he reassured lawmakers that the United States is committed to finding out the truth.

In the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, a top military official blamed the lack of direct communication between Bulgarian and U.S. troops for another friendly fire incident last week that resulted in the death of a Bulgarian soldier.

Army chief of staff Gen. Nikola Kolev said the two forces had not yet agreed on how to communicate with each other when Pvt. Gardi Gardev was fatally shot near the city of Diwaniya on Friday.

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