Baghdad, Iraq The leader of Iraq's biggest Sunni Arab group demanded Wednesday that the beleaguered Shiite-led government take steps to disarm militias after police said the bodies of 65 tortured men were dumped in and around Baghdad.
On a violent day even by the standards of Baghdad, car bombs, mortars and other attacks also killed at least 39 people and wounded dozens. Two U.S. soldiers also were killed, one in enemy action in restive Anbar province on Monday and the other in a roadside bombing south of Baghdad on Tuesday, the U.S. military command said.
The attacks have been unrelenting despite a security crackdown around the capital by 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops. The more than 1,500 violent deaths last month at the height of the joint operation speak to the difficulties in restoring any semblance of security to this sprawling city of 6 million people.
Although Sunni Arabs operate some death squads, the vast majority are run by Shiite militias and gangs.
Shiite political groups, including those in power, claim that armed militias have nothing to do with them and that their own military wings were disarmed months ago and turned into social and humanitarian groups. They claim that armed groups and militias are "rogue" elements beyond their control, but many Sunni Arabs contend that they are in fact controlled by Shiite politicians and clerics.
Adnan al-Dulaimi, a Sunni who heads the Iraqi Accordance Front political party, called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, to take a first step by honoring a pledge to disband militias.
"We hope the government carries out what it pledged and disbands militias and considers them terrorist organizations," al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press. His party is Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political bloc and holds 44 seats in the 275-member parliament.
"Their presence is deteriorating the situation and bringing more troubles to the political atmosphere," al-Dulaimi said of militias. "We call upon all religious authorities to raise their voices and demand militias be disarmed."
Police said 60 of the bodies were found overnight around Baghdad, with the majority dumped in predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhoods.
All the bodies were bound, bore signs of torture and had been shot, police said. Such killings are usually the work of death squads who kidnap people and usually torture them with power drills, or beat them, before shooting them execution-style with a bullet to the head.
The U.S. military said it could not confirm all the executions and that their body count so far was lower than that reported by police.
As of Wednesday, at least 2,671 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
"It is looking like about a 50 percent discrepancy on execution-style killings so far," said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, chief of the media relations division for the Multi-National Corps-Iraq.
The reason for the difference was not immediately clear. The confusion over numbers underscores the difficulty of obtaining accurate death tolls in Iraq, which lacks the reporting and tracking systems of most modern nations. Also, counts by the U.S. military often lag behind those of the police.
In the two bloodiest attacks in the capital, a car bombing killed at least 19 people and wounded more than 62 in a large square used mostly as a parking lot near the main headquarters of Baghdad's traffic police department.
In eastern Baghdad, a parked car bomb exploded next to an Iraqi police patrol in the Zayona neighborhood, killing at least 12 people and wounding 34.
The Iraqi army thwarted what could have been a far deadlier attack by disarming a car rigged with 2,000 pounds of dynamite in central Baghdad, the U.S. command said.