BAGHDAD, Iraq – Sunni gunmen ambushed a convoy of minibuses Saturday night at a fake checkpoint on the dangerous highway south of Baghdad, killing 10 Shiite passengers and kidnapping about 50. Across the country at least 52 other people were killed in violence or were found dead, five of them decapitated Iraqi soldiers.
Police said the mass kidnapping and killing was near the volatile town of Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad in the so-called Triangle of Death.
Shiite Muslims, a minority in that district, have routinely come under attack from Sunni insurgents who control the territory. The highway passing through the region from Baghdad leads to Najaf, the holiest Shiite city in Iraq. Shiite pilgrims have become a favorite target of Sunni gunmen, although it was not immediately known where the victims of Saturday night's assault were headed.
Sectarian revenge killings in Baghdad and the mixed Sunni-Shiite regions surrounding the capital have reached civil war proportions. Morgues across a wide sweep of the center of the country are full as Shiite militiamen and death squads range through the region killing Sunnis.
The Shiites are falling in large numbers as well in attacks from a growing network of Sunni insurgent groups, including radical organizations such as al-Qaida in Iraq. The U.S. military has admitted in recent weeks that its mission to pacify the capital has not met expectations. And now the problem appears to spreading outward at an extraordinarily rapid rate.
The spiraling violence coincides with increasingly strident demands from the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for American forces to pull back into bases and leave Iraq's cities and towns under the control of his military and police forces. But the highly partisan troops and police are believed to be involved in sectarian killings themselves or to look the other way, allowing Shiite death squads and militias to operate unmolested.
In the capital, the United States military offered a $50,000 reward for an Iraqi-American soldier kidnapped nearly three weeks ago.
Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, a 41-year-old translator from Ann Arbor, Michigan, was handcuffed and driven away by gunmen of a rogue Shiite militia while visiting his Iraqi wife and her family on Oct. 23.
Al-Taayie's uncle last week said he had received through an intermediary a demand of $250,000 from the kidnappers, but there was no word on further communications.
There were no reported deaths among America's 152,000 service men and women in Iraq on Saturday. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, oversaw a Veterans Day ceremony at which 75 members of the armed forces from 33 countries were sworn in as American citizens.
In Baghdad, eight people died and at least 38 were wounded when two bombs hidden under parked cars exploded among noontime shoppers in downtown Baghdad's Hafidh al-Qadhi square. Police and a medical workers said at least 38 others were injured in the explosion at the formerly bustling area on the eastern bank of the Tigris River.
A Slovak and Polish soldier were reported killed overnight by a roadside bomb. Slovakian defense ministry spokesman Vladimir Gemela said the two died when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb near Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad where coalition troops have fought fighters with the Mahdi Army militia loyal to the radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The deaths marked the 18th among Polish troops and fourth among those from Slovakia, which has about 100 troops in Iraq operating jointly with the 900 Polish troops in the country.
Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico has said his country will pull its troops out of Iraq in February.
Baghdad police 1st Lt. Thayer Mahmud said his men found 25 corpses dumped in several parts of the capital in the 24 hours from 6 p.m. Friday.
A Samarra police captain, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution, said the city morgue had received the beheaded bodies five soldiers who were kidnapped last week in the Meshahda area, 20 miles north of the capital.