BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. soldiers sent to beef up security in Baghdad were seen for the first time on the streets of the capital Saturday as Iraqi police used loudspeakers to reassure people that the Americans were there to protect them.
But at least 21 people were killed or found dead, most of them in the capital, which is being wracked by bombings and sectarian slayings. The dead included a Shiite couple and their two daughters abducted earlier in the day in Baghdad's mostly Sunni area of Dora, police said.
With Sunni-Shiite killings on the rise, about 3,700 soldiers of the Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade were brought from northern Iraq to bolster U.S. and Iraqi security forces that have struggled to contain the violence in Baghdad.
Several Stryker armored vehicles took positions in the mostly Sunni district of Ghazaliyah, one of the city's most dangerous areas. Police used loudspeakers to encourage residents to reopen shops and go about their business normally because the soldiers would protect them.
U.S. commanders hope the presence of heavily armed American troops will intimidate sectarian death squads believed behind many of the killings and reassure Iraqis — especially Sunni Arabs — that they will be protected by Iraq's predominantly Shiite security forces.
Another U.S. command, the 3rd Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, has been sent to Mosul to replace the unit redeployed to Baghdad.
Fears of trouble in the north rose Friday when a car bomb killed a police colonel and six other people in Mosul, triggering a firefight between police and insurgents. Iraq's Defense Ministry and police announced that 55 suspected insurgents had been captured around Mosul after the violence.
A curfew remained in effect for a second day in the eastern part of Mosul while police searched for insurgents who escaped.
Nevertheless, provincial Gov. Duraid Mohammed Kashmoula said he was pleased with the performance of the Iraqi police, who fled their posts during a November 2004 insurgent uprising but stood their ground Friday.
"The terrorists thought that police were going to run away, but this will not happen again. We will not give them that opportunity," Kashmoula said.
The U.S. command believed the risk of moving the Stryker brigade was worth taking because of the grave situation in Baghdad, where sectarian tensions are high. Sectarian bloodshed has soared in the capital since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, which triggered reprisal attacks on Sunnis.
On Thursday, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, told a Senate committee that sectarian tension were "probably as bad as I have seen it" in Baghdad and if not stopped "it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."
Echoing the general's assessment, Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the main Sunni alliance in the Iraqi parliament, warned of the dangers facing the country.
In a statement posted on a Sunni Web site, al-Dulaimi said that events since the new government took office May 20 "confirm that Iraq will fall in the circle of a civil war."
He said sectarianism is being "fed by neighboring countries that do not want stability in Iraq." He did not elaborate, but many Sunnis point to ties between Iraq's Shiite militias and the hard-line Shiite regime in Iran.
In addition to the Shiite family slain in Baghdad, police found 13 bodies Saturday — four floating in the Tigris River 25 miles south of the capital and the rest in various neighborhoods of the city. All had been shot, and most showed signs of torture, police said.
Two mortar shells landed on a house in southern Baghdad late Saturday, killing one person and injuring two, police said.
Two low-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's former regime were shot dead in separate incidents Saturday, police said.
In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, two bombs exploded within minutes Saturday, the first destroying a grocery store and the second targeting police and rescuers who rushed to the scene. Eight people were wounded, police said.
A U.S. soldier died Saturday of "non-hostile" causes in Anbar province west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said without providing details.