BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Police found some 50 bodies with gunshot wounds in Baghdad over the past day, an Interior Ministry source said on Monday, a day after U.N. chief Kofi Annan declared Iraq’s plight as worse than civil war.
Sectarian death squads have made the Iraqi capital a killing field and many of the bodies had been bound and tortured.
U.S. President George W. Bush was to host one of the most powerful leaders of the Muslim Shi’ite majority, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who strongly denies charges that his supporters are among those who carry out assassinations.
The White House meeting for Hakim is seen by some analysts as a sign of Bush delving more deeply into Iraqi politics in the quest for a new strategy that can stabilise Iraq and let American troops go home.
Hakim’s SCIRI movement maintains close ties to U.S. adversaries in Shi’ite Iran where the party was founded. Bush will also meet Iraq’s Sunni vice president this month.
Bush met Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki last week and assured him of his backing. They agreed to speed up training for Iraqi forces, which Maliki said could be in command of the country by June — despite qualms among U.S. commanders about the effectiveness and sectarian loyalties of many Iraqi units.
Following a heavy defeat for his Republicans in last month’s congressional elections, and two years before the party tries to retain the White House, Bush is expected to consider proposals to be made on Wednesday by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group co-chaired by former secretary of state James Baker.
American voters are dismayed by the deaths of nearly 2,900 U.S. troops since the invasion in March 2003, while bloodshed among Iraqis has continued to mount.
The deaths of nine U.S. soldiers were announced on Sunday, many killed in western Anbar province, where the three-year-old Sunni insurgency against U.S. forces and the Shi’ite-led government shows no sign of letting up.
An Interior Ministry official said 50 bodies were found with gunshot wounds in different parts of Baghdad on Sunday. Most of the victims bore signs of torture.
The figure of 50 would have seemed high three months ago but is now fairly typical in a city where U.N. officials estimated 120 civilians were being killed in violence daily in October.
The latest Iraqi data indicate that the death rate could since have risen by more than 40 percent in November alone.
Annan told the BBC: “When we had the strife in Lebanon and other places, we called that a civil war — this is much worse.”
In Washington, outgoing Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was revealed to have acknowledged in a memo just before he lost his job that U.S. strategy was not working and it might be better to reduce troop numbers.
Many Iraqis and some of their leaders, however, believe that the present violence is substantially dampened by the presence of 140,000 heavily armed Americans. In Baghdad, they have used helicopter gunships to subdue efforts by militant groups to take and hold territory in the city in recent weeks.
Were the Americans to pull out, many fear, sectarian bloodletting among the civilian population could be much worse.