The U.S. military on Thursday said sectarian killings had spiked in areas of Baghdad not included in a security sweep, with police reporting more than a dozen killings in the capital — including four American soldiers — and 20 new bodies dumped on the streets.
The U.S. command said a suicide bomber in a vehicle killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded 25 others west of Baghdad. In separate incidents, the first soldier died from wounds in the early-morning hours after his unit came under attack by small arms, while the second was killed after his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb south of Baghdad. Military officials also reported Thursday that a U.S. soldier died Wednesday from enemy fire in the northern city of Mosul.
The Baghdad killings and a car bombing at dusk that killed six Iraqis at a soccer field in the city of Fallujah brought the countrywide total to at least 28.
"Some believe the battle for Baghdad is already under way, and no one seems to be able to stop the killing," reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.
One of the few positive developments for the U.S.-led coalition and the national unity government was the killing of one senior member of al Qaeda in Iraq and the arrest of another.
Shiite politicians said they had finally managed to round up some support among dissenting parties as they strove to try break deadlock over a draft bill to establish autonomous regions as part of a federal Iraq.
Sunni Arabs vehemently oppose the bill, which could be submitted to parliament next week, and fear it could split the country into three distinct sectarian and ethnic cantons.
Violence has intensified over the past two days with more than 140 people either being killed in attacks or found dumped in the streets of Baghdad.
"There was a spike in violence in Baghdad over the past 24 hours from murder-executions," Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said. "Most of those are associated with sectarian violence — not all necessarily, but a large portion."
But he said the violence had intensified in areas that have not yet been included in "Operation Together Forward," which was launched on Aug. 7 with the participation of 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops.
"The terrorists and death squads are clearly targeting civilians outside of the focus areas," Caldwell said.
In those focus areas, Caldwell said U.S. and Iraqi forces had cleared more than 52,000 buildings, found 32 weapon caches, detained 91 people and seized more than 1,200 weapons.
"Overall, as part of the Baghdad security plan, we have seen a sustained reduction of level in the violence of attacks and murders in the focus areas," he said. "However, at Baghdad at large, the number of execution-style murders, we have seen a creeping back up. And yesterday, as I think most of us realized, there was a spike in those numbers."
In other developments:
Also Thursday, the chief judge in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial said he did not believe the former Iraqi leader was a dictator.
Judge Abdullah al-Amiri made his remark in a friendly chat with Saddam during court proceedings — a day after the prosecution asked him to step down, alleging bias toward the defendants.
Saddam was questioning a 57-year-old Kurdish witness, who testified that the ex-president aggressively told him to "shut up" when he pleaded for the release of nine missing relatives nearly two decades ago.
"I wonder why this man (the witness) wanted to meet with me, if I am a dictator," Saddam asked.
The judge interrupted: "You were not a dictator. People around you made you (look like) a dictator."
"Thank you," Saddam responded, bowing his head in respect.
A Shiite Muslim with 25 years experience, al-Amiri was a member of Saddam's Baath party and served as a judge in a criminal court under the former leader's regime. He heads the five-judge panel overseeing Saddam's trial on charges of committing atrocities against Kurds in northern Iraq nearly two decades ago.
On Wednesday, Chief Prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon demanded al-Amiri to step down, accusing him of bias toward the deposed leader and his co-defendants.
"You allowed this court to become a political podium for the defendants," al-Faroon told al-Amiri.
The prosecutor said the judge was giving Saddam the time to make "political" statements that were irrelevant to the proceedings.
"For instance yesterday, instead of taking legal action (against Saddam), you asked his permission to talk," al-Faroon said. "The action of the court leans toward the defendants."