BAGHDAD, Iraq – For days, Iraq was shaken by claims that Sunni Muslim (search) militants had abducted as many as 100 Shiites from an area at the tip of Iraq's "Triangle of Death."
Shiite leaders and government officials warned of a major sectarian conflict, only to see the reports evaporate when Iraqi security forces swept through the area and found no hostages.
But on Wednesday Iraq's interim president said he had proof of the abductions: 50 bodies recovered from the Tigris River.
And northwest of Baghdad, witnesses said 19 bullet-riddled bodies were found slumped against a bloodstained wall in a soccer stadium in Haditha (search).
The discoveries came as insurgents unleashed a string of attacks that killed at least nine Iraqis and wounded 21. They included four suicide car bombs — one of which targeted interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's convoy — and a roadside explosion in the capital, police said. Allawi escaped unharmed, his spokesman said.
Another blast sent smoke billowing over Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone (search), home to the Iraqi government and foreign embassies. It was not clear what caused that explosion.
The country's most feared terror group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for two of the Baghdad attacks in a series of statements posted on a militant Web site. It was not possible to verify the claim.
The attacks by the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency came as Iraq's caretaker government met to choose a new Cabinet from the country's complex mix of Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis. During Saddam Hussein's rule, Sunnis, who make up 15 to 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, dominated.
But many of them boycotted Iraq's Jan. 30 elections or simply feared attacks at the polls. The interim government is now trying to win the support of Sunnis by including some of them in the Cabinet, which could be announced as early as Thursday.
On Wednesday, interim President Jalal Talabani (search) did not say when or where the 50 bodies were pulled from the river, but he said all had been identified as hostages.
"Terrorists committed crimes there. It is not true to say there were no hostages. There were. They were killed, and they threw the bodies into the Tigris," Talabani told reporters. "We have the full names of those who were killed and those criminals who committed these crimes."
Shiite leaders and government officials claimed last week that Sunni militants had abducted as many as 100 Shiites from the Madain area, 14 miles southeast of Baghdad. But when Iraqi forces moved into the town of 1,000 families, they found no captives, and residents said they had seen no evidence anyone had been seized.
Madain is at the tip of a Sunni militant stronghold known as the "Triangle of Death," where there have been numerous retaliatory kidnappings. Police and health officials said victims are sometimes killed and dumped in the river.
As summer approaches and temperatures start to rise, bodies have been floating to the surface, said Dr. Falah al-Permani of the Swera district health department. He said some 50 bodies have been recovered over the past three weeks. But it was not clear whether they were the bodies referred to by Talabani.
In Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, taxi drivers Rauf Salih and Ousama Halim said they heard gunshots and rushed to the stadium. There they found 19 bloodied bodies lined up against a wall, the two men and an Iraqi reporter said. All appeared to have been gunned down.
Residents said they believed the victims — all men in civilian clothes — were soldiers abducted by insurgents as they headed home for a holiday marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
The reporter did not see any military identification documents on the bodies, and it was not possible to verify the claim. In October, insurgents ambushed and killed about 50 unarmed Iraqi soldiers as they headed home from a U.S. military training camp northeast of Baghdad.
The U.S. military said it could not confirm killings at the stadium. The only report American forces had received from Haditha by late Wednesday was that insurgents ransacked a television and radio station in the area, the military said. The Iraqi military also had no immediate information.
On Thursday, a bomb exploded on Baghdad's airport road, destroying at least two sports utility vehicles driving in a small convoy, witnesses said.
The U.S. military said it was investigating a car bomb explosion in Baghdad, but it declined to identify the location where it had occurred.
Insurgents often use roadside bombs and suicide car bombs to attack U.S. military convoys on the road, one of the most dangerous in the capital.