One of the few senior Sunni officials who had urged Sunni Arabs to join Iraq's political process has been fired, the government said Saturday. The death toll from a homicide attack on Iraqi army recruits rose to 44.

Adnan al-Dulaimi (search) was dismissed July 24 as head of the Sunni Endowment, the government agency in charge of the upkeep of Sunni mosques and shrines, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's office said. It declined to speak further on the matter.

Al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press he was fired for defending Sunnis, who dominated Iraqi politics under Saddam Hussein (search) but feel marginalized by the current U.S.-backed, Shiite-dominated government. Drawing Sunnis into the political process is seen as key for legitimizing any Iraqi government.

"I think that the reason behind my dismissal is that they want to silence a voice that is speaking against unjustified practices against Sunnis such as arrests, torture in the prisons, and also for my calls to release innocent detainees and to save Iraq from sectarianism, insecurity and divisions," al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.

"They wanted to keep me away from this important post from which I can defend our Sunni people," al-Dulaimi said.

Al-Dulaimi had been among a handful of Sunni Muslim clerics and officials who have urged fellow Sunnis to vote in the constitutional referendum slated for October and the general elections that will follow in December. Most Sunnis boycotted the Jan. 30 balloting.

On Saturday, Iraqi police said the death toll from a homicide bomb attack on army volunteers in a town near the Syrian border rose to 44 from 25, as some of the wounded died overnight.

The homicide bomber was "a portly young man carrying a bag in his hand and heading toward us," said Rashid Hamed, who went to volunteer for the army because "I didn't have a job and wanted to make some money."

"I don't remember anything else but waking up in the hospital," Hamed, who was wounded in the attack, said from a hospital bed.

Rabiah police commander Col. Yahya al-Shammari said 57 people were wounded in Friday's attack. Four of the dead bodies, one of whom was believed to be the attacker, were completely dismembered and remain unidentified, he said.

An Internet statement posted in the name of Al Qaeda in Iraq said the group led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi carried out the attack in Rabiah, a town north of Baghdad.

Tensions between the Sunni Muslim minority and the Shiite community has been on the rise, with recent reports of Sunnis being detained and killed by Shiite-led military forces.

Dozens of bodies — blindfolded, bound and shot — have been discovered around Baghdad and central Iraq, many of them Sunnis. Earlier this month, 11 Sunni detainees died in police custody after suffocating inside a locked van in the midday heat. A criminal investigation into the deaths are underway.

On Friday, about 1,000 Sunnis staged a protest near the heavily guarded Green Zone, accusing the Shiite-dominated government's security forces of killing Sunnis under the guise of fighting terrorism. Protesters also demanded that American and other foreign troops leave the country.

Al-Dulaimi had been outspoken in his criticism of the detentions and killings.

Most members of the minority Sunni Arab community, which forms the core of the anti-American insurgency, stayed home during the country's landmark Jan. 30 elections, either fearing insurgent attacks or heeding boycott calls by rebels and hard-line clerics.

That helped Shiites and Kurds win control of the new government, since only 17 Sunni members made it into the 275-member parliament.

Elsewhere, the bodies of two Baghdad International Airport employees and their driver, kidnapped earlier this week, were discovered Saturday in a field in southwestern Baghdad, police and hospital officials said.

Mahir Yassin, director of the airport's communication department, along with fellow employee Mahmoud Hamad al-Zawbaie, and driver Mahmoud al-Zawbaie were discovered around 6:30 a.m. Saturday in the Amil neighborhood, said police Capt. Talib Thamir.

They were taken to Yarmouk Hospital, where officials discovered their identification cards on their bodies, said Dr. Muhannad Jawad.

The three had been kidnapped Wednesday from Baghdad's western Mansour neighborhood by assailants in two cars as they were heading to work.