Friday, November 3, 2006

BAGHDAD — John D. Negroponte, director of national intelligence, met yesterday with Iraq’s prime minister — on a day when seven Americans died in combat and the tortured bodies of 56 men were found on the streets of Baghdad.

The bodies were those 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 who seize victims from homes or from cars and buses traveling the capital’s dangerous streets.

Such slayings almost always go unsolved, and Lt. Khayon said 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 market in a Shi’ite area of Baghdad, killing at least seven persons.

Mr. Negroponte’s surprise visit yesterday came five days after the arrival of National Security Adviser Stephen J. 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 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.

Meanwhile, with more violence expected after tomorrow’s anticipated 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 issued the order in a video of a meeting in which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki upbraided senior military and security officials 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 relations 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 and then sentences the ex-president 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 they were riding in 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 non-combat 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 the Associated Press in Geneva.

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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