As violence explodes in Iraq — with 65 tortured bodies found today as well as a spate of car bombing and mortar fire that killed at least 39 people — a U.S. official warns that time is running out.
"If sectarian violence cannot be demonstrably, tangibly reduced … (then) over the next several months an Iraqi government that represents all of its people, is a partner against terror and is at peace both at home and with its neighbors, will be difficult if not impossible to achieve," David Satterfield, a senior State Department advisor for Iraq, said Wednesday on Capitol Hill, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.
"Failure means the possibility that Iraq would become a permanent haven for terrorists, a satellite of Iranian influence, or both," Satterfield said.
Part of the problem is that the predominantly Shiite police force working alongside U.S. troops, s accused of being behind many of the execution-style-murders, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.
Sunni and Shia residents told CBS News that a strong American presence is necessary to quell violence, and that if Americans leave, the fighting will start again.
In fact, the leader of Iraq's biggest Sunni Arab group demanded on Wednesday that the Shiite-led government take steps to disarm militias.
The majority of the bodies of 65 tortured men were dumped in predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhoods.
All of them showed the hallmarks of having been victims of sectarian death squads, reports . They were bound hand and foot, and shot execution-style through the head, and many showed signs of having been tortured.
Such killings are usually the work of death squads, operated by both Sunni Arabs and Shiite gangs and militias, who kidnap people and usually torture them with power drills, or beat them, before shooting them.
In other developments:
The unflagging attacks have come despite a massive monthlong security crackdown around the capital by 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops. The more than 1,500 people who died last month at the height of the joint operation are indicative of the difficulties faced in restoring any semblance of security to this sprawling city of six million people.
Adnan al-Dulaimi, who heads Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political bloc, called on al-Maliki to take a first step by honoring a pledge to disband militias — blamed by many Sunnis of being behind many of the death squads.
"We hope the government carries out what it pledged and disbands militias and considers them terrorist organizations," Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the Iraqi Accordance Front told The Associated Press. His party holds 44 seats in the 275-member parliament.
"Their presence is deteriorating the situation and bringing more troubles to the political atmosphere." al-Dulaimi said of the militias. "We call upon all religious authorities to raise their voices and demand militias be disarmed."
The U.S. military said it could not confirm all the executions and said the numbers they had for the bodies so far was lower than that reported by police.
"It is looking like about a 50 percent discrepancy on execution-style killings so far," said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, chief of the media relations division for the Multi-National Corps-Iraq.
The reason for the difference was not immediately clear. The confusion over numbers underscores the difficulty of obtaining accurate death tolls in Iraq, which lacks the reporting and tracking systems of most modern nations. Also, counts by the U.S. military often lag behind those of the police.
According to Iraqi police, 45 of the bodies were discovered in predominantly Sunni Arab parts of western Baghdad. The rest were found in predominantly Shiite areas of eastern Baghdad. Another five bodies were found floating down the Tigris river in Suwayrah, just south of Baghdad.
In the two bloodiest attacks in the capital, a car bomb killed at least 19 people and wounded more than 62 after it detonated in a large square used mostly as a parking lot near the main headquarters of Baghdad's traffic police department.
In eastern Baghdad, a parked car bomb exploded next to a passing Iraqi police patrol in the Zayona neighborhood, killing at least 12 people and wounding 34.
Sunni Arabs fear more sectarian violence will break out if the largest Shiite political bloc in parliament succeeds is passing legislation that will set in place the mechanism for establishing autonomous regions as part of a federal Iraq.
Iraq's parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, urged that a bill drafted last week by the dominant Shiite United Iraqi Alliance not be submitted to the body on Sept. 19. Instead he called for its postponement until parliament amends the country's new constitution, a time consuming affair that could drag on for months.
"The parliament speaker believes that it is not the right time to form provinces in the middle and in the south. There is no dispute with Kurdistan, it can remain as it is. Al-Mashhadani thinks that for the time being this issue must be postponed," Al-Mashhadani spokesman Mohanad Abdul-Jabar told The AP.
Sunni Arabs have said the bill could split the country into three distinct sectarian and ethnic cantons and have vehemently opposed it.
Although federalism is part of Iraq's new constitution, and there is already an autonomous Kurdish region in the north, special legislation and a referendum would be needed to turn Iraq into a full federation.
Alliance leaders were sending delegations to the Shiite holy city of Najaf to meet radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and other leaders who do not fully support the legislation — but for different reasons than the Sunnis. Al-Sadr, for examples, wants it to be discussed after U.S. troops leave Iraq.
"We will resume meetings tomorrow and after tomorrow to reach a final agreement on this issue. The Alliance has formed a delegation to visit Najaf to meet with religious authorities like Muqtada al-Sadr to persuade them and to reach an agreement with them," Alliance member Bassim Shareef said.
He added that American, British and United Nations officials were urging a postponement, which a Sunni Arab legislator also reported.
"Meetings will continue before this parliament session. There are blocs that want the participation of the American embassy in the discussions. The U.N. suggested a one-year postponement," said Omar Abdul-Sattar, a member of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party.