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Iraqi president says bodies proof of abductions

50 found in river; 19 shot in stadium

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's interim president announced yesterday the recovery of more than 50 bodies from the Tigris River, saying the grisly discovery was proof of reports that dozens were abducted from an area south of the capital, despite a fruitless search by Iraqi forces.

Northwest of Baghdad, witnesses said 19 bullet-riddled bodies were found slumped against a bloodstained wall in a soccer stadium in Haditha.

The discoveries were made as insurgents unleashed a string of attacks that killed at least nine Iraqis and wounded 21. They included four suicide car bombs -- one of which targeted interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's convoy -- and a roadside explosion in the capital, police said. Allawi escaped unharmed, they said.

Another blast sent smoke billowing over Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the Iraqi government and foreign embassies. It was not clear what caused that explosion.

Interim President Jalal Talabani did not say when or where the 50 bodies were pulled from the river, but he said all had been identified as hostages.

''Terrorists committed crimes there," Talabani told reporters. ''It is not true to say there were no hostages -- there were. They were killed, and they threw the bodies into the Tigris. We have the full names of those who were killed and those criminals who committed these crimes."

Shi'ite leaders and government officials said last week that Sunni militants had abducted as many as 100 Shi'ites from the Madain area, 14 miles southeast of Baghdad. But when Iraqi forces moved into the town of 1,000 families, they found no captives, and residents said they had seen no evidence anyone had been seized.

Madain is at the tip of a Sunni militant stronghold known as the ''Triangle of Death," where there have been numerous retaliatory kidnappings. Police and health officials said victims are sometimes killed and dumped in the river.

As summer approaches and temperatures start to rise, bodies have been floating to the surface, said Dr. Falah al- Permani of the Swera district Health Department. He said some 50 bodies have been recovered over the past three weeks. But it was not clear whether they were the bodies referred to by Talabani.

In Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, taxi drivers Rauf Salih and Ousama Halim said they heard gunshots and rushed to the stadium. There they found 19 bloodied bodies lined up against a wall, the two men and an Iraqi reporter said. All seemed to have been gunned down.

Residents said they believed the victims, all men in civilian clothes, were soldiers abducted by insurgents as they headed home for a holiday marking the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.

The reporter did not see any military identification documents on the bodies, and it was not possible to verify the report. In October, insurgents ambushed and killed about 50 unarmed Iraqi soldiers as they headed home from a US military training camp northeast of Baghdad.

The US military said it could not confirm killings at the stadium. The only report American forces had received from Haditha by late yesterday was that insurgents had ransacked a television and radio station in the area, the military said.

The Iraqi military also had no immediate information.

Insurgent violence has surged in the past week, especially in the capital, where Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders met yesterday to try to negotiate a Cabinet that will include members of the Sunni minority. Talabani, a former Kurdish rebel leader, said officials hope to announce the new government today.

Sunnis make up 15 to 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, but dominated under former leader Saddam Hussein. Sunnis are thought to form the backbone of the insurgency that developed after US-led forces ousted Hussein two years ago.

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