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41 corpses are found at two sites in Iraq

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi authorities found 41 decomposed bodies -- some bullet-riddled, others beheaded -- at sites near the Syrian border and south of the capital, and said yesterday they included women and children who may have been killed because insurgents thought their families were collaborating with US forces.

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber driving a garbage truck loaded with explosives and at least one other gunman shot their way into a parking lot in an attempt to blow up a hotel used by Western contractors. At least four people, including the attackers and a guard, were killed. The US Embassy said 30 Americans were among 40 people wounded in the blast. No Americans were killed. In an Internet statement, Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack on the Sadeer hotel, calling it the ''hotel of the Jews."

The violence continued this morning. Insurgents dressed in Iraqi police uniforms assassinated the chief of a central Baghdad police station, Reuters reported, citing police sources.

The insurgents set up a fake police checkpoint and stopped the officer's car as he was on the way to work at Salhiya police station, the sources said. After asking his name, they shot him along with two other policemen in his car. One of the insurgents filmed the killing, police said.

The 41 decomposed bodies were found Tuesday after reports of their stench reached authorities.

Twenty-six of the dead were discovered in a field near Rumana, a village 12 miles east of the western city of Qaim, near the Syrian border. Each body was riddled with bullets. The dead were found wearing civilian clothes and one was a woman, police Captain Muzahim al-Karbouli said.

The other site was south of Baghdad in Latifiya, where Iraqi troops found 15 headless bodies in a building at an abandoned army base, Defense Ministry Captain Sabah Yassin said.

The bodies included 10 men, three women, and two children. Their identities, like the others found in western Iraq, were not known, but insurgents may have viewed them or their relatives as collaborators.

Yassin said some of men the found dead in Latifiya were thought to have been part of a group of Iraqi soldiers who were kidnapped by insurgents two weeks ago.

While Sunni Arab insurgents have repeatedly targeted Westerners in Iraq, Shi'ite Muslims, top Iraqi officials, and civil servants, even Muslim women are no longer safe.

Decapitated bodies of women have begun turning up in recent weeks, a note with the word ''collaborator" usually pinned to their chests. Three women were gunned down Tuesday in one of Baghdad's Shi'ite neighborhoods for being alleged collaborators. And in the northern city of Kirkuk, a woman identified as Nawal Mohammed, who worked with US forces, was killed in a drive-by shooting, police said.

The gruesome discoveries in Rumana and Latifiya were among 58 new killings in Iraq announced yesterday, including the death of a US soldier in a Baghdad roadside bombing.

Iraq's interim planning minister, Mahdi al-Hafidh, a Shi'ite, narrowly escaped death yesterday after gunmen opened fire on his convoy in the capital. Two of his bodyguards were killed and two others were wounded.

''I'm fine, just sorry about the death of the guards, who were still young," he told state-run Al-Iraqiya TV. ''It is a part of the crisis that Iraq is living, but we will keep going for the sake of Iraq, to get rid of terrorism and build a democratic country."

Qataa Abdul Nabi, the director general of the Shi'ite Endowment, was shot to death Tuesday as he drove home -- the second high-ranking member of the Shi'ite charity to be killed in a week.

In other violence yesterday, according to Iraqi officials, guerrillas struck a police patrol with a roadside bomb in the southern city of Basra, killing two policeman and wounding three, and two police officers were killed and two others wounded in clashes with insurgents in the northern city of Mosul.

Police said the attack on the Sadeer hotel began when insurgents wearing police uniforms shot to death a guard at the Agriculture Ministry's gate, allowing the truck to enter a compound the ministry shares with the hotel. Guards fired on the vehicle and it exploded.

The explosion carved a hole in the parking lot that was at least 30 feet wide and more than 10 feet deep. It shattered most windows in the hotel and set cars on fire.

Al Qaeda in Iraq posted an Internet statement addressed to its leader, Jordanian-born terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claiming it carried out the attack.

Also yesterday, in Rome, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy disputed Washington's version of the events leading to the killing last Friday of an Italian intelligence agent by US troops in Baghdad, saying the agent had notified the proper authorities that he was on his way to the airport after winning the release of a hostage.

The top US general in Iraq said he had no indication that Italian officials gave advance notice of the route the Italians' car was taking. In a statement released after the shooting, the US Army's Third Infantry Division, which controls Baghdad, said the vehicle was speeding and refused to stop.

The statement said a US patrol tried to warn a driver with hand and arm signals, by flashing white lights and firing shots in front of the car.

But in his first major address since the shooting strained relations between the United States and Italy, Berlusconi told lawmakers the car carrying the intelligence agent Nicola Calipari and journalist Giuliana Sgrena was traveling at a slow speed and stopped immediately when a light was flashed.

Berlusconi said Calipari had notified an Italian liaison officer, waiting at the Baghdad airport along with an American officer, that they were on their way.

However, he added, ''I'm sure that in a very short time every aspect of this will be clarified."

The idea that Calipari was killed by friendly fire is painful to accept, Berlusconi said. But he reassured lawmakers: ''The United States has no intention of evading the truth." Berlusconi is a staunch supporter of President Bush and the US-led campaign, and has been struggling to balance his decision to keep 3,000 troops in Iraq against heavy antiwar sentiment in Italy.

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