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Military Deaths In Iraq Top 1,700

The military announced the killing of four more U.S. soldiers on Sunday, pushing the American death toll past 1,700, and police found the bullet-riddled bodies of 28 people - many thought to be Sunni Arabs - buried in shallow graves or dumped streetside in Baghdad.

The four American soldiers died Saturday in two roadside bombings west of Baghdad, increasing to at least 1,701 the number of U.S. forces who have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. The number includes five military civilians.

Lt. Ayad Othman said a shepherd found the buried bodies of 20 men on Friday in the Nahrawan desert, 20 miles east of Baghdad. The bodies were discovered as the Shiite-led government pressed to open disarmament talks with insurgents responsible for relentless violence that has taken on ominous sectarian overtones with recurring tit-for-tat killings.

"All were blindfolded and their hands were tied behind their backs and shot from behind," Othman said.

In other recent developments:

  • Eight months before the invasion of Iraq, a staff paper prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair concluded that postwar occupation plans by the U.S. military were inadequate. The memo obtained by The Washington Post says the post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a "costly nation-building exercise." It also shows how the British were afraid that the U.S. could look to Britain to "to share a disproportionate share of the burden." The Post says that the eight-page memo and other internal British government documents have been confirmed as authentic by British sources. The newspaper reports that the memo's introduction says that "little thought" has been given to "the aftermath and how to shape it."
  • A French journalist and her Iraqi assistant have been freed after more than five months as hostages in Iraq. Florence Aubenas had been missing since early January. She told of being held in an Iraq cellar in "difficult conditions," tied up, blindfolded and given little water. When she stepped off the plane, she was greeted by French President Jacques Chirac, who kissed her on the cheek. She spent the first minutes of her homecoming embracing her family.
  • On Sunday, Gen. Rashid Flaiyeh, who runs all the Interior Ministry elite units including the Wolf Brigade - a Shiite-dominated commando unit that Sunnis claim is killing members of their community - escaped an apparent assassination attempt when a mortar barrage rained down on his mother's funeral in northern Baghdad. Eleven mourners were wounded, Lt. Ismael Abdul Sattar said.
  • A spokesman for Iraq's prime minister says the country's efforts to draft a new constitution are weakened by the lack of political experience within the minority Sunni Arab community. That group had enjoyed great influence under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Now, they don't think they have enough say within a parliamentary committee that is drawing up a constitution.

    Witnesses claimed the slain men were Sunnis, according to a statement from the influential Sunni organization, the Association of Muslim Scholars. No details were provided to support the claim.

    The bodies of eight men shot in the head were found Sunday in two different locations in Baghdad's predominatly Shiite northern suburb of Shula, police Capt. Majed Abdul Aziz said. The bodies could not immediately be identified.

    "The Interior Minister keeps saying security is getting better, but everyday we hear of 20 bodies killed here and other 20 bodies found there," said Salih al-Mutlak, head of the prominent umbrella Sunni body, the National Dialogue Council.

    The grisly discoveries were announced two days after 21 men were found slain Friday near Qaim, on the lawless Syrian frontier about 200 miles west of Baghdad.

    It was feared the bodies may have been those of Iraqi soldiers who went missing Wednesday after leaving their base in Akashat, a remote village near Qaim, in a bus bound for Baghdad.

    Last month, multiple batches of bodies turned up in various locations across Iraq. Many were apparent revenge killings that have raised fears of sectarian civil war.

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