BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Police in Baghdad found 56 bodies and a severed head over the past 24 hours in various parts of the capital, the highest daily figure since the end of Ramadan, an Interior Ministry source said on Friday.
While not unprecedented, the number represents a sharp rise since last week when U.S. forces were out in force throughout the city hunting for a missing U.S. soldier.
The body count in Baghdad on Wednesday was 35 and the daily figure was generally lower in the previous week. On Oct. 22, one of the last days of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, the Interior Ministry source reported 50 bodies found in 24 hours.
U.S. troops lifted roadblocks around the Shi’ite slum district of Sadr City on Tuesday when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered them out, flexing his political muscle after a week of public friction with Washington ahead of U.S. elections.
The checkpoints, part of a massive U.S. search for the missing soldier, had brought gridlock to several parts of the city and drawn the ire of people in the Shi’ite slum district of Sadr City who complained of collective punishment. Sunni Arab leaders, however, warned that lifting them could lead to a surge in sectarian killing by Shi’ite militias.
U.S. Major General William Caldwell said on Thursday the number of sectarian killings had fallen in the past week, following a surge during Ramadan. He attributed last week’s drop to a combination of the end of Ramadan, calls by clerics and politicians for calm and the greater U.S. troop presence in Baghdad.
Caldwell said sectarian killings had fallen 41 percent in Baghdad in the past week. “Last week casualties did decrease with a nationwide drop of approximately 23 percent,” he said, adding that it was too early to call it a trend. “Over the last four weeks, casualties were higher than in the months of August and September.”
Also Friday, three U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad and four Marines were killed in “enemy action” in Iraq’s western Anbar province on Thursday, the U.S. military said.
It said the three soldiers in Baghdad died when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in the east of the capital.
The four Marines died in two separate incidents in Anbar but the military gave no further details.
The military also announced early on Friday that a soldier had died in a non-combat related incident north of Baghdad.
U.S. forces have been conducting an intensive search in Baghdad for a missing U.S. soldier of Iraqi origin who was kidnapped 10 days ago after going to visit relatives, including his Iraqi wife.
Troops have also been conducting more visible patrols in Baghdad in an effort to clamp down on sectarian violence.