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Iraq bombings kill at least 55; Cabinet says 379 died last week

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A series of bombings Tuesday killed at least 55 and wounded more than 150 Iraqis as the Iraqi government revealed that hundreds more had died in last week's sectarian violence than it had previously reported.

The Iraqi Cabinet said 379 Iraqis were killed in last week's bloodshed and that 458 were injured.

An American military official in Baghdad said U.S.-led coalition forces had been able to confirm only 220 such deaths since last Wednesday's bombing of the dome of one of Shiite Islam's most important shrines.

After the bombing, a wave of sectarian violence swept Iraq, with mobs and militia groups from the Shiite majority killing Sunni Muslims and attacking dozens of mosques. Those murders were followed by a Sunni backlash that left dozens dead.

The U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said there was no reason to doubt the Iraqis' figures but that American officials hadn't been able to verify them.

The violence derailed efforts to form a new national government 10 weeks after elections. American officials are hoping that the bloodshed will serve as a warning to Shiites and Sunnis about the dangers of not forming a government that includes Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds.

"We haven't started the negotiations or any discussions because the situation is still chaotic and we are trying now to maintain security in the country," said Ali al-Adeeb, a senior official in the Shiite Dawa Party.

Naseer al-Ani, an official with the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, agreed.

"The security situation has to improve before we start negotiations," al-Ani said.

While the killings let up considerably over the weekend, the violence continued Tuesday.

Three car bombs and a suicide bomber in Baghdad killed at least 55 people and wounded more than 150, according to police officials. At least one Sunni mosque in Baghdad was badly damaged in an explosion, Interior Ministry officials said.

The capital has borne much of the violence that's wracked the nation.

After last Wednesday's mosque bombing, about 250 bodies with signs of violent deaths—out of the total of 379—were taken to Baghdad's main morgue, the repository for bodies from the city and surrounding villages, according to an examination of documents there, including pictures of the corpses, and interviews with medical personnel.

A review of the morgue's logbook confirmed that most of the 250 had died of bullet wounds. A top morgue official, who asked that his name not be used for security reasons, verified those numbers.

The Washington Post, citing sources at the morgue, on Tuesday reported more than 1,300 deaths from the violence.

Morgue officials who spoke to Knight Ridder said that figure was nowhere close to what they'd seen. Many others, including Shiite and Sunni politicians alike, said they hadn't heard of anything approaching that number.

Maj. Gen. Ali Ghalib, the deputy of police affairs for the Interior Ministry, said "that number is very, very, very exaggerated."

Saleh al-Mutlak, a top Sunni politician, agreed, as did officials at the Iraqi Islamic Party, a group that's been aggressive in the past about documenting the murders of Sunnis.

There was some variation of the numbers in interviews with Iraqi officials Tuesday.

An emergency room doctor at a nearby hospital, Baghdad's largest, said he'd visited the morgue several times during the fighting last week and saw evidence that the facility took in more than 250 who'd been killed.

"The morgue had, from all over Baghdad, between 350 and 400," Amar Obeid said.

Ghalib said the numbers he'd seen nationally suggested that about 300 Iraqis were killed.

The head of the statistics bureau in the Interior Ministry, an Iraqi general who didn't want his name used, said the national figures were between 350 and 400.

On Tuesday morning, with families walking in and out of Baghdad's main morgue looking for loved ones who'd disappeared, there were still 90 bodies waiting to be claimed.


(Obeid is a Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent. Special correspondents Mohammed Al Dulaimy and Huda Ahmed contributed to this report.)


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.