BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – The bound bodies of dozens more torture victims were found in Baghdad in the past day, officials said on Friday, fuelling anarchic sectarian anger as political leaders square off over an issue some say could mean civil war.
In all, police retrieved 50 bodies in the 24 hours to Friday morning, most shot in the head after being trussed and tortured, a senior Interior Ministry official told Reuters. That took the body count in the city for three days to at least 130.
The U.S. military acknowledged a “spike” in the murder rate this week, despite a month-old security crackdown in the capital for which Washington sent in thousands of extra troops. Six died on Thursday, four around Baghdad, including two in a suicide car bomb attack that also wounded 25 Americans.
At Baghdad police headquarters, sources said their latest tally for the 24 hours to 7 a.m. (0300 GMT) was 49 bodies.
The police and Interior Ministry total was 20 on Thursday after 60 on Wednesday — the latter a figure that made headlines and drew renewed international attention to violence the United Nations has estimated may be killing 100 Iraqis a day.
“It’s barbaric but sadly we’ve become used to it,” the Interior Ministry official said of bodies found around the capital, in both Sunni and Shi’ite areas. “Forty bodies, 60 bodies — it’s become a daily routine.”
The White House, defending its Iraq policy from fierce criticism ahead of November’s congressional elections, called the body counts “horrible”.
A few other corpses have been pulled from rivers downstream, including a headless, legless male corpse hauled ashore at Mussayab late on Thursday.
Although some of the violence is the work of criminal gangs taking advantage of the anarchy to make money from kidnapping and extortion, political leaders on either side of the sectarian divide blame militants on the other for “death squad” killings.
Parliamentary leaders are due to meet on Saturday to try to break a deadlock over proposed legislation to grant sweeping autonomy to new regions within a federal state structure.
Shi’ites want to introduce a bill on Tuesday to define the mechanisms of the federalism laid out in the U.S.-sponsored constitution. Many want to create a large, autonomous region in the south, similar to that run by the ethnic Kurds in the north.
But the Sunni Arab minority in the centre are threatening to boycott parliament and want to amend the constitution to ensure that central government prevails. They fear regional autonomy could mean Shi’ite and Kurdish control of Iraq’s oil and say it would lead to the country breaking up.
Parliament’s deputy speaker, Khaled al-Attiya, who has pledged “no retreat” on the bill, travelled to the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf to meet top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to discuss federalism. The reclusive Sistani is regarded as a voice of moderation.
Attiya said in comments broadcast by state television on Friday that he had won support for the draft law from other Shi’ite factions, including the party of fiery young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and the smaller Fadila party.
A nationalist, Sadr has been cooler on the issue of federalism, and some observers have speculated that he might ally with sceptical Sunnis to block legislation.
The constitution ratified last year in a referendum despite strong Sunni objections sets deadlines for passing enabling legislation on setting up federal regions and for reviewing and maybe amending the constitution.
The Sunnis want amendments before discussing legislation. Shi’ite leaders want a bill passed by an Oct. 22 deadline that would create mechanisms for setting up autonomous regions. It is not clear what happens if the deadlines pass without result.
Thursday’s car bomb attack on the U.S. troops west of Baghdad scattered debris into a “concentrated troop area”, the military said in a statement. Local residents said they heard a loud blast near a police station used as a base by U.S. troops.
All but four of the wounded were “not seriously” injured.
U.S. and Iraqi officials also said they had killed one senior figure from al Qaeda’s Iraq branch and captured another.