BAGHDAD -- Car bombs struck a market and a police bus yesterday, killing at least 25 people, and a dozen bodies were uncovered in a dump on the outskirts of Baghdad, some victims blindfolded and shot execution-style.
Also yesterday, Iraqi militants holding an engineer hostage issued a 72-hour ultimatum for Australia to start pulling its troops out of Iraq.
The latest attacks were part of a surge in violence that has killed more than 270 people, many of them Iraqi soldiers and police, since Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari announced his new government April 28.
Representatives of Jaafari's Shi'ite-dominated alliance planned to meet with Sunni Arab leaders today to discuss candidates for defense minister and six other unfilled posts.
Jaafari hopes to win over the Sunni minority, which is believed to be driving the insurgency, by increasing their participation in his government. But Shi'ite leaders have rejected many Sunni candidates because of ties to Saddam Hussein's regime, which brutally repressed Shi'ites and Kurds. Only four Sunnis are included in the 37-member Cabinet.
The bodies, the latest in a series of discoveries of remains, were found by scavengers sifting through garbage for scrap metal and other items to sell at a dump on Baghdad's northeastern outskirts, police and soldiers said.
Accounts of how many bodies were found were in conflict. Bassim al-Maslokhi, a soldier who was guarding the area during the recovery, counted 14; Kadhim al-Itabi, a local police chief, put the number at 12.
The victims, believed to be Iraqis, were found in shallow graves and seemed to have been killed recently, Maslokhi said. Some were blindfolded and had been shot in the head, he said.
At Baghdad's central morgue, an official said 12 bodies had been received. Families identified some of the victims as farmers who disappeared recently on their way to a market to sell their produce, said the official, Rahoumi Jassim.
An influential association of Sunni clerics, the Association of Muslim Scholars, said the victims were Sunnis from the Madain region, 12 miles southeast of the capital. But police said they found no identification documents on the bodies.
Last month, scores of bodies were pulled from the Tigris River near Madain.
In nearby Suwayrah, 25 miles south of the capital, a suicide car bombing at a market killed 17 civilians and wounded 46, police and government officials said. Such attacks often target US military patrols, Iraqi security forces, or mosques, but police said there were no obvious targets yesterday.
In Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, a car packed with explosives, and with a taxi sign on its roof, destroyed a police minibus, said US Army Sergeant Brian Thomas and Iraqi Army Major Salman Abdul Wahid.
The attack at a checkpoint on the eastern outskirts of Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, killed at least eight police officers, said police Lieutenant Colonel Saad Abdul Hamid.
Elsewhere, two insurgents fired at American soldiers on patrol in south Baghdad, and one militant was killed in the return fire, the US military said.
US and Iraqi forces have hit back at insurgents with a series of raids. The US military said yesterday that coalition and Iraqi forces have captured or killed hundreds of followers of Iraq's most-wanted militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in recent months, including 20 top lieutenants and other senior members of his group, Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Iraq's government said the Feb. 20 capture of a Zarqawi driver and the seizure of the leader's computer have yielded information on senior officials in the terror network and the funding it received from abroad. No details were released.
In the holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, gunfire broke out outside a mosque controlled by followers of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Five people were wounded, worshipers and a military official said.
Arab television station Al-Jazeera aired new footage of Douglas Wood, a hostage from Australia, and said the militants holding him gave Australia 72 hours to start withdrawing its forces from Iraq. It did not say what the militants would do if the deadline isn't met.
In the footage, the 63-year-old California resident, who has a serious heart condition, is shown with his head shaven and rifles pointed at him. Australia's government has said it will ignore demands to remove its 1,370 troops.