Villagers found three decapitated bodies north of Baghdad on Wednesday and a car bomb killed two people at an Iraqi military checkpoint south of the capital in attacks that appear to be increasingly targeting Iraqis rather than the United States and its multinational force allies.
The bodies were found in nylon bags, the heads in bags alongside them, near Dijiel, about 25 miles north of Baghdad, said Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman (search) of the Interior Ministry. They were all men with tattoos, including one with the letter 'H' on his arm, but no documents were found on them, he said.
A U.S. military official said the bodies appeared to be Iraqis and had their hands tied behind their backs.
While insurgents have often beheaded foreign hostages in their fight against the government and coalition forces, it is not a tactic usually used against Iraqis, who are more often abducted for money.
Residents from a nearby village found the bodies shortly after dawn and notified the Iraqi national guard, said Iraqi Lt. Ahmad Farouk.
An Associated Press photographer saw the three corpses lined up with their heads by their sides on the floor at the guard compound before U.S. troops collected them and handed them over to police. Two wore jeans and shirts and the third wore sweat pants and a T-shirt. All appeared young.
Meanwhile, militants released a Turkish man identified as Aytulla Gezmen (search), an Arabic language translator who was taken hostage in late July, according to a videotape obtained by Associated Press Television News. The Turkish Foreign Ministry confirmed he had been freed.
A group calling itself The Shura Council of the Mujahedeen (search) said in a separate video Tuesday that it was freeing Gezmen after he converted to Islam and repented working for the Americans.
Huseyin Gezmen, Aytullah Gezmen's brother, told Turkey's Anatolia news agency that Gezmen called the family and was expected return home in two days. "We heard his voice for the first time in 52 days," Huseyin Gezmen was quoted as saying. "My brother is back from the dead."
A Jordanian transport company said Wednesday it had ceased to operate in Iraq in the hope of winning the release of one of its drivers, Turki Simer Khalifeh al-Breizat, kidnapped by a separate militant group. The kidnappers gave the company 48 hours Tuesday to pull out.
The developments follow a surge in violence that has killed more than 200 people in the past four days in a brazen and coordinated campaign focused increasingly on the capital — the center of authority for Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) and his American allies.
Guerrillas bombed a Baghdad shopping street full of police recruits and fired on a police van north of the capital Tuesday, killing at least 59 people.
The latest car bomb targeted a national guard checkpoint in Suwayrah, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, Abdul-Rahman said. One guardsman was among the two dead; 10 civilians were wounded.
A police patrol in Baqouba, northeast of the capital, was also hit Wednesday by an explosive device that wounded four policemen and a civilian, said police Lt. Feras Ali.
Insurgents are becoming more indiscriminate in their attacks, with a growing number of Iraqis killed as "collaborators," analysts said.
"It is targets of opportunity," said Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert at the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations. "It is much easier to get locals, and maybe they have understood that no matter what they do, the United States isn't going to give way. Foreigners are also in a position to protect themselves better."
Also Wednesday, 10 people were killed and six wounded in clashes between insurgents and U.S. forces in Ramadi, a predominantly Sunni Muslim city west of the capital where anti-American sentiments are high, said Saad al-Amili, a senior Health Ministry official in Baghdad.
Gunmen fired on Khamis Hussein, the head of the health directorate in the restive Anbar province, he said. Hussein escaped unharmed, but one of his bodyguards was killed and his deputy was wounded in the attack, al-Amili said. Two Marines from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force died — one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday — while conducting security operations in the province, the military said. Neither Marine was identified; no details were released.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (search) said violence in Iraq is bound to increase ahead of the country's January elections and the Nov. 2 U.S. presidential vote.
"We do expect an increase in violence as we approach the January election in Iraq, because the election is what the insurgents fear," Armitage said during a visit to Prague, Czech Republic. But he added: "We feel along with our allies in Iraq that we are making progress on these matters."
In other developments.
— U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the British Broadcasting Corp. he feared continued insecurity in Iraq would block planned Iraqi elections in January.
He also reiterated his judgement that the American-led attack on Iraq, conducted without U.N. approval, was in contravention of the U.N. charter.
"From our point of view and the (U.N.) charter point of view it was illegal," Annan said in the BBC interview.
— The U.S. military released 275 detainees from the Abu Ghraib prison, the facility near Baghdad where U.S. soldiers allegedly abused Iraqi detainees, authorities said. Another 2,500 remain in custody there.
— In Brussels, Belgium, NATO envoys neared agreement on a limited expansion of the alliance's training mission for the Iraqi military after the United States and France narrowed differences over the scale and command of the operation. Up to 300 NATO instructors could be deployed in Iraq, supplementing the larger U.S. operation to rebuild a 260,000-strong Iraqi military force, diplomats said. A deal on setting up the training center for Iraqi officers is expected by early next week.