KHALIS, Iraq – Twenty decapitated bodies were found Monday near a police station in Khalis, Iraq, a town just west of Bakubah, Iraqi sources with the Ministry of Interior confirmed. The identities of the bodies are not yet known.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, turned over security responsibilities to Iraqi authorities Monday in the mainly Shiite province of Karbala in southern Iraq, the eighth of Iraq's 18 provinces to revert to Iraqi control.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the southern province of Basra's security file also would be transferred to the Iraqis in mid-December. The British-led forces overseeing the area already have begun drawing down and pulled back from the center of the provincial capital to the airport on the outskirts.
"This is the proof of the strong will and resolve of the good citizens of this nation," al-Maliki said at the handover ceremony in Karbala. "The reconstruction of Iraq does not hinge on security alone, but security is the key to everything."
The transfer of security responsibilities in Karbala came only hours after a homicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up among recruits gathered outside a police camp in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, killing at least 27 people and wounding 20, police and hospital officials said.
The recruits in Baqouba were waiting to be allowed inside the camp for the day's training when the homicide bomber blew himself up in their midst, according to a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The attack had the hallmarks of Al Qaeda in Iraq, whose militants have repeatedly targeted police and army recruits to discourage Iraqis from joining the country's nascent security forces.
According to hospital reports, most of the victims were struck by iron balls packed with explosives to achieve maximum casualties.
The Multi-National Force also identified a renegade Mahdi Army militia commander on Monday as the man responsible for the Sunday kidnapping of 10 Shiite and Sunni tribal leaders.
Arkan Hasnawi, identified as a former brigade commander in Jaysh Al Mahdi, was behind the abductions, which took place in the Diyala Province as the chiefs were returning from a meeting in Baghdad with a representative of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to intelligence reports received by the Multi-National Force.
One Sunni sheik was killed in the attack. The others remain missing.
A statement released by the Multi-National Force said: “Hasnawi’s actions clearly demonstrate he has chosen to dishonor Muqtada al-Sadr’s cease-fire order and that he has joined forces with Iranian-supported Special Groups that are rejecting Muqtada al-Sadr’s directions to embrace fellow Iraqis."
In August, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army fighters to law down their arms for up to six months in an attempt to stop attacks and reduce violence in the region.
But many disgruntled members of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army who are dissatisfied with the cease-fire order have broken off to form their own groups, which the U.S. military says are funded by the Iranian government, which Iran has denied.
Hasnawi and his associates “continue to intimidate and terrorize innocent Iraqi citizens, taking actions that mirror the tactics used by Al Qaeda in Iraq,“ the intelligence reports said.