BAGHDAD, Iraq, (AP) -Authorities found the mutilated bodies of 60 men in Baghdad in the 24 hours ending Tuesday morning, likely the latest victims of the sectarian death squads that roam the capital.
The bullet-riddled bodies all had their hands and feet bound and showed signs of torture — hallmarks of death-squad killings, police 1st Lt. Mohamed Khayon said.
The victims were from 20 to 50 years old, and their bodies had been dumped in several neighborhoods.
Sectarian death squads have killed thousands in recent months and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is coming under increased pressure to find an end to the violence.
Chief U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Monday that there had been a spike in sectarian violence with the onset of Ramadan two weeks ago but provided no numbers.
“We anticipated it and we expect it to continue,” Caldwell said. “The sectarian tensions in the city are high.”
Meanwhile, the brother of Iraq’s Sunni Arab vice president was assassinated Monday by gunmen who broke into his home, the third of the politician’s four siblings to be slain this year. Sunnis blamed Shiite militias and demanded a crackdown to stop the capital’s raging sectarian violence.
Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, arrested the head of the mess hall at a base where up to 400 mainly Shiite policemen suffered food poisoning during a Ramadan meal amid concerns it may have been the first known attempt by insurgents to carry out a mass poisoning against police.
A military spokesman, Brig. Qassim al-Moussawi, said the poisoning likely was intentional, though he did not rule out that spoiled food was used in the meal as part of a scheme by contractors or officers to skim off money from food funds.
The policemen fell ill after eating their iftar, the meal that ends the sunrise-to-sunset fast during the Islamic holy month, at their base in the southern town of Numaniyah.
Also detained for questioning was the Iraqi contractor hired to provide food for the base and a number of other people, al-Moussawi said, without providing details.
Authorities were still investigating what substance may have been used in the case of a poisoning.
Baghdad was torn by new violence. A car bomb ripped through a market in a Shiite district, killing at least 10 people and wounding 23 — an attack likely carried out by Sunni insurgents.
Gunmen also kidnapped 11 policemen in a brazen assault on their checkpoint in Sadr City, a Baghdad neighborhood dominated by the Mahdi Army, the country’s most powerful Shiite militia.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the U.S. military announced that three Marines died Sunday after fighting in the western region of Anbar, a hotbed of Sunni insurgents, bringing to 32 the number of American service members who have died in Iraq this month.
The death of the brother of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi — the country’s most prominent Sunni Arab politician — alarmed Sunnis and fueled their demands that the government crack down on Shiite militias.
Critics of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accuse the Shiite leader of hesitating on reining in the militias because many of them — like the Mahdi Army — belong to parties in his government.
“The clock is starting to strike after today’s events,” Khalaf al-Alayan, a Sunni parliament member told The Associated Press. “They (Shiite militias) consider Sunnis terrorists who must be killed. If the zero hour is coming, we will take the decisions needed to defend ourselves.”
“We say to the government, you still did not disarm the militias,” Salim Abdullah Tawfiq, a Sunni politician, said in a statement read in parliament. “And here is what it has led to.”
Al-Maliki condemned Monday’s killing as an “ugly, terrorist crime.”
Al-Hashimi’s brother, Lt. Gen. Amir al-Hashimi, a Defense Ministry adviser, was slain when gunmen wearing military uniforms broke into his north Baghdad home, al-Moussawi said.
The gunmen also abducted six of the general’s guards and a neighbor — who is also an official in Tariq al-Hashimi’s Iraqi Islamic Party, according to party officials.
The vice president already has lost two other siblings in violence: His sister and another brother were killed within two weeks of each other in April, both in shootings in the Iraqi capital.
Two militiamen were arrested in the slaying of al-Hashimi’s sister, but the government did not say to which militia they belonged. Al-Hashimi has one other brother, who is believed to be living abroad.
Tariq al-Hashimi heads the Iraqi Islamic Party, the biggest Sunni Arab party in parliament and part of the Accordance Front, a Sunni bloc. The Sunnis joined in al-Maliki’s government alongside Shiite parties — including that of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which heads the Mahdi Army.
But that national unity government is showing deep strains amid the Shiite-Sunni killings that have bloodied Baghdad for months, with thousands killed and victims’ bodies often dumped bound and tortured in the river or streets of the capital.
Shiites accuse Sunni parties of links to insurgents who have targeted Shiites in deadly bomb attacks for the past three years. They insist militias are needed to protect their community because the national security forces cannot.
On Monday, a car bomb detonated in Shaab, a mainly Shiite district of Baghdad, soon after the evening’s iftar meal. The blast killed 10 people and wounded 23, said Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman. It was the deadliest attack on a day when at least 18 Iraqis were killed around the country.
In western Baghdad, the Iraqi army arrested an al-Qaida in Iraq suspect identified as Sabah Ireimit al-Issawi, according to the Defense Ministry. It said the man is a high-ranking member of the terror group but did not provide further details.
In other developments:
• An audio interview with the purported spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq was posted on an Islamic Web site. Ibrahim al-Shammari said the insurgent group is capable of fighting for a dozen years, but isn’t opposed to negotiations with the United States. Its authenticity could not be confirmed, but the site it was posted on is known for its access to militant groups.
• Khalil al-Rifai, a comedian and actor who entertained Iraqis for more than five decades, died Monday from kidney failure in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil. He was 79.