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Iraq Transition

26 bodies found in Iraqi village

Victims shot in forehead, doctor says


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Police say 26 bodies, all with gunshot wounds to the head, were found in a western Iraq village.
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26 people are found shot to death in Iraq, and a bomb rocks Baghdad.

Top general says he did not know what was going on when Italian hostage was freed.

Conflicting reports about a fatal shooting in Iraq.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Authorities in Iraq are investigating the killings of 26 people whose bodies were found Tuesday in an Iraqi village near the Syrian border, all with gunshot wounds to the forehead.

The investigation was under way as violence continued Wednesday, with suicide bomb attacks in Baghdad and al-Habbaniya, an attack on a bus carrying workers to a job site in Abu Ghraib, and a roadside bomb attack that killed a U.S. soldier from Task Force Baghdad.

Another soldier was wounded in the attack, bringing the number of U.S. troop fatalities in the war to 1,509.

The 26 bodies were found Tuesday evening by Iraqi police in the village of al-Rumana in western Iraq near the city of Qaim, part of the restive region where U.S. forces have cranked up their hunt for insurgents during the past few weeks.

According to Qaim hospital director Dr. Hamdi al-Aloussi, all of the victims were shot in the forehead. A police officer said they were dressed in civilian clothes. A woman's body was among the dead. Police had not identified the bodies.

Police think the killings happened four days ago. That was toward the end of Operation River Blitz, the Marine-led assault on insurgents in Euphrates River valley towns such as Ramadi, Hit, Hadita and Qaim.

Marines operating in the area are looking into the reports of the 26 bodies.

As for River Blitz, the operation started February 20 and ended Saturday, but Marines say they intend to maintain the momentum from the push, which resulted in many arrests and the discovery of weapons.

"We have disrupted their operations, detained high-level individuals, and reduced their weapons caches," said Craig Tucker, commander of Regimental Combat Team 7 of 1st Marine Division.

Last summer, 13 bodies were found in Qaim, victims of another mass killing.

The al-Rumana mass killing was the second discovered Tuesday. Earlier, 15 beheaded bodies were found in a vacated military warehouse, an officer from the Iraqi emergency police services said.

The Iraqi army discovered the unidentified bodies, the officer said. The warehouse is on the road from Latifya to Karbala, south of Baghdad. It has not yet been determined when the people were killed.

In southern Baghdad, the bodies of two people thought to be working with U.S. forces were found stuffed in barrels Tuesday night, a police official said.

The official said the two -- Sajed Radi Ali and Ali Kadhem Mohammed -- were believed to have been working for the multinational forces at a nearby base.

The dead men were in separate barrels found in the Canal Street area, he said, and with each body was a note that said: "He was a traitor working with the Americans, so he was to be killed."

Insurgents in Iraq have targeted anyone perceived as cooperating with the interim government or multinational forces.

Garbage truck used in attack

In central Baghdad, meanwhile, a suicide bomber driving a garbage truck detonated early Wednesday near the Ministry of Agriculture, killing two people and wounding 22 others, emergency police said. The bomber also died in the attack.

According to police, the truck was approaching the hotel through a courtyard when ministry security officers became suspicious and opened fire on it, causing it to detonate.

Iraqi police said they believe the truck was using the open courtyard to approach the hotel without passing through hotel security checkpoints.

The attack took place around 6:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday), leaving a massive crater and littering the area with burning vehicles.

Also in Baghdad, gunmen early Wednesday opened fire on a minibus carrying employees to work, killing one and wounding three others, according to Iraqi Police Emergency Services.

The workers, employed by a Kuwaiti company, came under small-arms fire in the Zayuna neighborhood around 7:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m. ET Tuesday). They were headed to work in Abu Ghraib.

And in al-Habbaniya, about 25 miles east of Ramadi, a suicide car bomb exploded Wednesday afternoon near a joint U.S.-Iraqi military checkpoint on a road leading to a U.S. base. There were initial reports of casualties.

Wednesday evening in Baghdad, gunmen fired at the convoy of Iraqi Planning Minister Mehdi al-Hafidh, killing one bodyguard and wounding two others, police said.

The minister survived the attack and was not injured, authorities said.

U.S. investigates Italian, Bulgarian deaths

The U.S. military said Tuesday it has launched two investigations after the recent shooting deaths of an Italian security agent and a Bulgarian soldier.

On Friday, U.S. troops at a Baghdad checkpoint fired on a car carrying an Italian journalist -- newly freed hostage Giuliana Sgrena -- and Italian security agent Nicola Calipari, wounding Sgrena and killing Calipari.

The U.S. military initially said the car carrying Sgrena was rapidly approaching the checkpoint and ignored repeated warnings to stop.

But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday the car stopped immediately when a light was flashed. (Full story)

Berlusconi was speaking in parliament Wednesday, the day after his foreign minister openly disputed the U.S. military's account of the shooting death.

Gianfranco Fini ruled out suggestions that U.S. forces might have deliberately targeted the Italians, but told parliament there were discrepancies between Italian and U.S. accounts.

In a letter received by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi on Wednesday, President Bush promised a "fast and exhaustive" investigation into the shooting.

A little more than an hour before that incident, Jr. Sgt. Gardi Gardev died in what the Bulgarian government said a preliminary investigation showed was probably the result of "friendly fire."

"[The multinational force] values greatly our partnership with Bulgaria in helping the Iraqis achieve democracy," the U.S. military said. "We are committed to working with our Bulgarian partners to determine the cause" of the death.

CNN's Ayman Mohyeldin and Arwa Damon contributed to this report.


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