- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

4:37 p.m.

BAGHDAD — U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte met today with Iraq’s prime minister as the military announced the deaths of seven Americans and the tortured bodies of 56 men were found on the streets of Baghdad.

The bodies were of men between 20 and 45 years old, and all were apparent victims of sectarian death squads, police said.

All wore civilian clothes and had been bound at the wrists and ankles, police Lt. Mohammed Khayon said.

He said the bodies showed signs of having been tortured, a common practice among Shi’ite death squads, which seize victims from private homes or from cars and buses traveling the capital’s dangerous streets.

Such murders almost always go unsolved, and Lt. Khayon said the police had no solid information on the victims’ identities or their killers.

The bodies were discovered a day after a bomb exploded in a crowded Shi’ite market, killing at least seven persons.

With more violence expected after tomorrow’s expected announcement of a verdict in the trial of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s defense minister has canceled leave for all soldiers.

Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi was heard issuing the order in a video of a meeting between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and senior military and security officials, in which Mr. al-Maliki upbraided them for failing to stop the capital’s unbridled violence.

“All vacations will be canceled, and all those who are on vacation must return,” Mr. al-Obeidi said.

Saddam’s trial was intended to heal the fractured nation by exposing the crimes of his regime in a court of law. Instead, it has been seen by many as worsening tensions between majority Shi’ites and the Sunni minority who made up the bulk of the former ruling class.

Many of Saddam’s fellow Sunni Arabs, along with some Shi’ites and Kurds, are predicting a firestorm if the Iraqi High Tribunal convicts the ex-president and then sentences him to death, as it is widely expected to do.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of three soldiers in Baghdad and four Marines in the western province of Anbar, the heart of the Sunni insurgency.

The three soldiers died Thursday when the vehicle in which they were riding was struck by a roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad.

A separate announcement said one Marine died from injuries “sustained due to enemy action” on Thursday in Anbar. The military later said three Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7 died Thursday from wounds sustained during combat in Anbar.

The military also said a Baghdad-based soldier had died in a noncombat-related incident north of Baghdad on Thursday, raising the death toll in November to 11.

Desperate to flee the carnage, nearly 100,000 Iraqis each month are moving to Syria and Jordan, where their presence has driven up prices for housing, food and other commodities, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said yesterday.

The UNHCR estimated that as of last month, at least 914,000 Iraqis had fled their homes since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, chief spokesman Ron Redmond told Associated Press in Geneva.

Mr. Negroponte’s surprise visit, meanwhile, came five days after the arrival of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who flew to Baghdad after the Iraqi leadership issued a series of bitter complaints about U.S. tactics in the country.

Mr. al-Maliki met with Mr. Negroponte in the Iraqi leader’s office in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, according to the prime minister’s spokesman.

The spokesman, Yassin Majid, said the visit was part “of a continuing series of meetings between the Iraqi government and the U.S. administration.” He did not elaborate. U.S. Embassy officials confirmed that Mr. Negroponte was in the capital but would not comment further.

Video from the prime minister’s office showed Mr. Negroponte and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad greeting Mr. al-Maliki with three kisses on the cheek.

Relations between the United States and the Iraqi government have been strained in recent days after Mr. al-Maliki issued a series of bitter complaints, at one point saying he was not “America’s man in Iraq.”

Mr. Negroponte served as the ambassador to Iraq before Mr. Khalilzad.

Elsewhere, U.S. troops acting on intelligence reports raided a building in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing 13 suspected insurgents, the military said.

The building was surrounded and stormed after those inside did not respond to demands to surrender, the military said.

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