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.
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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.