Mass grave unearthed in Baghdad
Remains found in a former Al Qaeda area
BAGHDAD - Remains of possibly dozens of people believed slain in sectarian violence were unearthed yesterday from a mass grave at a former Al Qaeda stronghold in southern Baghdad, the third such find in Iraq this month.
Also yesterday, an Iraqi television station reported that one of its reporters had been kidnapped in the latest of a grim series of attacks that has made Iraq among the world's most dangerous countries for journalists.
The remains were found in Baghdad's mostly Sunni Dora neighborhood by Sunnis who have turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq, police said. The victims were discovered in an area overlooking the main highway leading to Shi'ite shrine cities in the south.
Sunni extremists would often waylay travelers along that road, kidnapping and killing Shi'ites.
The remains were placed in black plastic bags and transferred to a Shi'ite mosque in Dora, according to a police officer. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information.
A news photographer at the Kazimain mosque counted 33 plastic bags, and police said each bag held the remains of one victim. But the remains were so badly decomposed that it was impossible to verify the number.
Some of the bags were open, revealing body parts, bones, and scraps of clothing. One of the bags contained a prosthetic leg.
Relatives of people who had been missing in the area crowded into a courtyard outside the mosque, where the remains were laid out. But none of the remains had been identified by late yesterday. A woman in black wept as the bags were opened.
Earlier this month, American and Iraqi officials said they found 29 bodies near Lake Tharthar north of Baghdad in the former Al Qaeda stronghold of Anbar Province. The next day, 17 other victims were discovered in a brushy area west of Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Officials said they believed the bodies were those of people who had been seized at fake checkpoints and killed because of their sectarian affiliation.
Last Tuesday, the International Red Cross said at least 375,000 people were missing in Iraq, many of them victims of Sunni and Shi'ite extremists who killed members of the rival Islamic sect.
The wave of sectarian slaughter has receded somewhat in recent months as more and more Sunnis have turned against Al Qaeda and other extremist groups and as Shi'ite militias have toned down their operations, perhaps fearing a backlash in the Shi'ite community.
The presence of more American forces in the capital since the troop buildup this year has also discouraged the worst of the abuses by sectarian death squads.
Yesterday, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh attributed some of the improvement to Iran, saying Iranians were "showing more restraint in sending people and weapons to destabilize Iraq."
Nevertheless, kidnappings and killings have continued.
Satellite television station al-Baghdadiyah said one of its reporters, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, 28, disappeared Friday. A colleague phoned Zaidi on Friday, and a stranger answered his cellphone with the words "Forget Muntadhar," according to an editor.
"This is the act of gangs, because all of Muntadhar's reports are moderate and unbiased," the editor said.
Al-Baghdadiyah broadcasts from Cairo, and is often critical of the Iraqi government and the US military presence. The station, perceived as pro-Sunni, has already lost two reporters to violence.
Iraqi journalists frequently come under threats from extremists because of their reporting or their affiliation with foreign organizations.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, says at least 123 journalists and 42 media support workers - translators, drivers, fixers, and guards - have been killed in Iraq since the war began in 2003. About 85 percent were Iraqis, the group said.
In addition, the organization says at least 51 journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq since 2004. Neither CPJ count includes Zaidi, whose whereabouts are unknown.
Elsewhere, Iraqi soldiers yesterday raided a Sunni village about 40 miles north of Baqubah looking for Al Qaeda militants, the Iraqi Army said. Two soldiers and four militants were killed in fighting.
The US military said American troops killed seven suspected insurgents and detained 10 in raids across central and northern Iraq.
In Mosul, police detained 13 members of a new militant group, Jihad and Liberation, police said. The group was arrested when Iraqi soldiers raided their hide-outs in the eastern part of the city.