BAGHDAD -- Police found more than two dozen bodies across the capital yesterday and the government said 73 people had died in fighting in the south, as violence surged despite signs that a US crackdown is curbing sectarian killings in Baghdad.
The US military also said three American soldiers and one Marine were killed the day before -- two in combat in Anbar province and two from nonhostile causes. A fourth soldier died yesterday in Baghdad. At least 13 American service members have died in Iraq since Sunday, according to the US command.
The violence continued this morning. An explosives-rigged bicycle detonated near an army recruiting center in the southern city of Hilla, killing at least 12 people and wounding 28, police said. The bomb detonated as volunteers gathered to join the army.
Elsewhere, an oil pipeline exploded yesterday in southern Iraq, sparking a massive fire and killing at least 36 people and injuring 45, the Interior Ministry said.
The pipeline was located 6 miles south of Diwaniyah, the scene of fierce clashes between the Iraqi Army and Shi'ite militia on Monday that left 73 people dead.
The reason for the explosion was not clear, but police Lieutenant Raid Jabir said several people had been siphoning fuel from the pipeline when the blast occurred. Iraqis have faced severe fuel shortages since Saddam Hussein's 2003 ouster. Insurgents also have frequently targeted pipelines and oil refineries.
The latest violence both inside and outside the capital occurred despite assertions by US and Iraqi officials that a new operation in the capital has lowered Sunni-Shi'ite killings there, which had risen in June and July.
On Monday, US military spokesman Major General William B. Caldwell said the murder rate in Baghdad had fallen by 46 percent from July to August and ``we are actually seeing progress out there."
That figure could not be independently confirmed. But an employee of the main Baghdad city morgue, Muyaid Matrood, said that as of Monday, his office had received 337 bodies of people who had died violently this month, excluding bombing victims.
Health Ministry officials said about 1,500 violent deaths were reported in June as well as in July. Those figures included bombing victims. Even so, Deputy Health Minister Dr. Sabah al-Husseini said the previous surge in deaths had ``obviously" diminished.
US officials attributed the fall in sectarian killings to a major security crackdown launched Aug. 7. About 8,000 US troops and 3,000 Iraqi soldiers were sent to the capital to search homes systematically and patrol the streets.
Similar operations in Baghdad and elsewhere have curbed violence for limited periods of time in the past, only to have killings flare again once American forces left the area.
A total of 27 bodies were found in three locations in Baghdad, police said. They included 11 bullet-riddled corpses discovered near a school in a Shi'ite neighborhood of south Baghdad and 13 more dumped behind a Shi'ite mosque. Three others were found in the upscale Mansour neighborhood. In addition, four beheaded corpses, one believed to be an Iraqi soldier, were recovered from the Tigris River south of Baghdad.