Iraqi forces found 30 bodies, most beheaded, near a village north of Baghdad on Sunday, in one of the bloodiest episodes in a cycle of apparent sectarian killings.

Police said the bodies were found after police and soldiers were dispatched to respond to a report of killings in Mullah Eid, a village near the town of Buhriz, a former stronghold of ex-President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party about 35 miles north of Baghdad.

Authorities gave no immediate information on the identities of the victims or on who may have been responsible.

The dead were being transferred to a morgue in Baghdad, police 1st Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.

Brig. Saman Talabani, an Iraqi army commander, said earlier that villagers had reported the corpses and he sent a battalion of soldiers to join a team from Diyala hospital to investigate.

A military officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak, said later that soldiers turned back from the scene, fearing an ambush. The search team apparently did continue later, however, and discovered the bodies.

Iraq has seen an explosion of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, including such secretive killings, since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, a predominantly Sunni city, 60 miles north of Baghdad.

The Sunnis who dominate the area north of Baghdad were fervent supporters of Saddam, whose Sunni-led regime ruled Iraq for decades and brutally oppressed majority Shiite Muslims and minority Kurds.