A parked car bomb exploded in one of Baghdad's busy outdoor bus stations at rush hour Thursday, killing at least 22 people, and 20 beheaded bodies were found on the banks of the Tigris River southeast of the capital, two Iraqi police officers said.
The blast hit a crowded hub in southwest Baghdad's Baiyaa neighborhood, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. At least 52 people were wounded, police and hospital officials said.
Two Iraqi police officers, one from Baghdad and one based in Kut, 100 miles southeast of the capital, said the bodies of 20 people had been found — all men aged 20 to 40 years old — with their hands and legs bound, and some of the heads were found next to the bodies, the officers said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
The bodies were found in the Sunni Muslim village of Um al-Abeed, near the city of Salman Pak, which lies 14 miles southeast of Baghdad.
The Baghdad officer said he learned of the discovery because Iraq's Interior Ministry, where he works, sent troops to the village to investigate. The Kut officer said he first heard the report through residents of the Salman Pak area.
Sporadic clashes had been under way in the Salman Pak area for several days, between Interior Ministry commandos and suspected insurgents, the Kut officer said. It was unclear whether the discovery of the bodies was related to the recent fighting.
Salman Pak and its surrounding area has been the focus of new U.S. military operations to oust suspected al Qaeda fighters from the Baghdad's outskirts. American forces launched a drive into Salman Pak and neighboring Arab Jabour two weeks ago.
At the time, ground forces commander Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said U.S. troops were heading into those areas in force for the first time in three years.
Many of the victims of the Baghdad bus stop blast had been lining up, waiting for a ride to work. Some 40 minibuses were incinerated in the explosion, police said.
Associated Press Television News video showed an open square at least 50 yards wide, strewn with smoldering car parts and charred bodies with clothes in tatters. Bystanders, some weeping, gingerly loaded human remains into ambulances.
In other developments:
Britain has withdrawn hundreds of troops from Iraq, leaving a force of around 5,500 based mainly on the fringes of Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad. The U.S. currently has about 155,000 troops in Iraq.
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said only hours before resigning his position that his country would withdraw even more troops within weeks, but he refused to set a more specific timetable.
Also Wednesday, America's No. 2 diplomat in Iraq predicted progress by fall on bringing together the country's feuding factions.
U.S. officials have been pressing the Iraqis to enact a series of laws designed to bring together the country's warring factions, curb the violence and arrest the slide in support for the U.S. mission among the American people and Congress.
Speaking to reporters in Baghdad, the second-ranking U.S. diplomat in Iraq said he was hopeful that the Iraqis would make progress on "some" legislation by September.
That's when Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker are to submit a report on prospects for ending the violence.
The report is expected to mark a watershed in the troubled American effort to build a stable democracy in Iraq in the wake of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
"We're in a very significant period of political turmoil. ... But we do expect Iraqis to work through these issues," U.S. diplomat Daniel Speckhard told reporters. "My expectations are still that they'll rise to the challenge of producing some key legislation by September."
Speckhard said much work has been done in Iraq's parliament on a U.S.-backed law that would regulate the oil industry and distribute revenues among all the country's ethnic and sectarian groups.
Other "benchmark" bills would amend the constitution, allow many former members of Saddam's Baath party to get back government jobs and arrange new elections for provincial posts.
All those measures have stalled because of political divisions within the Cabinet and parliament.