BAGHDAD, Iraq – Baghdad police said they found 56 tortured bodies scattered around the Iraqi capital over the 24 hours before Friday morning, all the apparent victims of sectarian death squads.
The victims, whose bodies were found between 6:00 a.m. local time Thursday and 6:00 a.m. Friday, were all men estimated in age between 20 and 45, said police Lt. Mohammed Khayon.
The U.S. military on Friday announced the deaths of three soldiers in Baghdad and a Marine in the western province of Anbar.
A brief statement said the three soldiers died Thursday when the vehicle they were riding in was struck by a roadside bomb at 2:15 p.m. in eastern Baghdad. It gave no other details.
A separate announcement said one Marine died from injuries "due to enemy action" Thursday in Anbar.
The military also said U.S. troops killed 13 suspected insurgents in a raid south of Baghdad early Friday.
Troops were acting on intelligence reports saying a suspect with links to Al Qaeda in Iraq was in the building in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.
The building was surrounded and stormed after those inside did not respond to demands to surrender, the military said in a statement e-mailed to media. Five people were killed inside the building, including one man wearing a vest rigged with explosives, while eight other men who fled were gunned down by troops on the ground and planes or helicopters circling above, the report said.
Several of those killed appeared to have been foreign fighters from outside Iraq, the report said. The report did not say if there were any American casualties in the raid.
Explosives, hand grenades and other explosive-rigged vests used by homicide bombers were discovered in a search of the area, the report said.
Police said all of the victims found in various locations in Baghdad were wearing civilian clothes and had been bound at the wrists and ankles. The bodies showed signs of having been tortured, a common practice among religious extremists who snatch their victims from private homes or cars and buses traveling the capital's dangerous streets.
Such murders almost always go unsolved and Khayon said the police had no solid information on who the victims were, where and when they were killed, or by whom.
Shiite militiamen have been blamed for many of the capital's sectarian slayings, which exploded in number following the February bombing of an important Shiite shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra.
Meanwhile, Time magazine reported on its Web site that an Iraqi uncle of a kidnapped American soldier received a $250,000 ransom demand for the captive's release.
The uncle, identified as Entifad Qanbar, told Time that he met this week in Baghdad with an intermediary of the kidnappers who showed him a grainy video on a cell phone screen of a man they claimed was Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, the 41-year-old reservist from Ann Arbor, Mich. The man on the video appeared bloodied and beaten.
Qanbar, a former spokesman for Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress group, was quoted as saying that he was suspicious because the ransom demand was so low, and demanded proof by noon Saturday that his nephew was alive.
Maj. Dawn Dancer of the Michigan National Guard, who was acting as a spokeswoman for the soldier's Ann Arbor family, said the relatives weren't giving interviews and that she did not have any information about a ransom demand.
In Iraq, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver declined to elaborate on Maj. Gen. Caldwell's remarks at a news conference Thursday. Caldwell said there was an ongoing dialogue at different levels for soldier's release, but he would not say with whom or at what level.
Al-Taayie was visiting his Iraqi wife when he was handcuffed and taken away by gunmen during a visit last week to the woman's family, Caldwell said.
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 Friday.
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.
The outflow of refugees caught the agency by surprise because it was hard to detect.
"If people flee to camps, it's quite visible," Redmond said. "This is a steady stream of people now who are leaving."