At least 17 bodies found near Iraqi desert town

At least 17 bodies have been found scattered in separate locations near a town close to the Syrian border that is considered an insurgent hotbed, with one group of 11 shot in the head and another beheaded.

At least 17 bodies have been found scattered in separate locations near a town close to the Syrian border that is considered an insurgent hotbed, with one group of 11 shot in the head and another beheaded.

Eyewitnesses today said the 11 bodies had their hands tied behind their backs and were wearing civilian clothes. They were found near a small hamlet called Jabab, about 19 miles east of Qaim. It was unclear when they were killed.

The Interior Ministry also confirmed another six bodies were found near Qaim outside the village of Fosfat. Interior ministry Maj. Falah al-Mahamdawi said the six men were found yesterday. They were also in civilian clothes and had civilian identification cards.

It was unclear if the bodies had any relation to a group of about 20 Iraqi soldiers missing from the Qaim area since late Tuesday.

Qaim, an insurgent hotbed 200 miles west of Baghdad, has been the scene of numerous US military and Iraqi army operations. US Marines carried out two major operation in the area last month. A total of 11 Marines were killed in the campaigns.

Al-Qaida in Iraq, the terror group led by Jordanian-born Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed in an internet posting it had abducted a total of 36 Iraqi soldiers in western Iraq on Wednesday. The posting carried on a website known to carry militant statement could not be independently verified.

“A group of the infidel guards was arrested and investigated on Wednesday,” it said.

The group added the men confessed their crimes “against Sunnis and their loyalty to crusaders”.

To release them, it gave the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari a day to set free “Muslim women” held in Iraqi prisons.

Capt. Ahmed Hamid said the soldiers went missing on Tuesday afternoon after leaving an Iraqi army base in two minibuses from Akashat, a remote village near the Syrian border about 70 miles south-west of Qaim.

Hamid, contacted by telephone at an Iraqi military base in Qaim, said the soldiers were wearing civilian clothes and travelling to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, for a holiday.

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