BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi authorities discovered at least 87 corpses – men shot to death execution-style – as Iraq edged closer to open civil warfare. Twenty-nine of the bodies, dressed only in underwear, were dug out of a single grave Tuesday in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad.
The bloodshed appeared to be retaliation for a bomb and mortar attack in the Sadr City slum that killed at least 58 people and wounded more than 200 two days earlier.
Iraq’s Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, meanwhile, told the Associated Press security officials had foiled a plot that would have put hundreds of al-Qaida men at critical guard posts around Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. and other foreign embassies, as well as the Iraqi government.
A senior Defense Ministry official said the 421 al-Qaida fighters were recruited to storm the U.S. and British embassies and take hostages. Several ranking Defense Ministry officials have been jailed in the plot, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that he had not received anything definitive on the report, but cautioned that earlier accounts are often adjusted later on.
“We’ve always known that there are people who have tried to infiltrate the various security forces and tried to get close access to places that they ought not to be,” he said. “There’s nothing new about that that I know of.”
Police began unearthing bodies early Monday, although the discoveries were not immediately reported. The gruesome finds continued throughout the day Tuesday, police said, marking the second wave of sectarian retribution killings since bombers destroyed an important Shiite shrine last month.
In the mayhem after the golden dome atop the Askariya shrine in Samarra was destroyed on Feb. 22, more than 500 people have been killed, many of them Sunni Muslims and their clerics. Dozens of mosques were damaged or destroyed.
Underlining the unease in the capital, Interior Ministry officials announced another driving ban, from 8 p.m. today to 4 p.m. Thursday to protect against car and suicide bombs while the Iraqi parliament meets for the first session since the Dec. 15 election.