IMAGE: MALIKI AND NEGROPONTE
Iraqi government via AFP-Getty Images
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, right, shares a light moment with U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte, left, during their meeting Friday in Baghdad. An unidentified translator sits between them.
updated 11/3/2006 3:15:37 PM ET 2006-11-03T20:15:37

U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte met Friday with Iraq’s prime minister in the second visit this week by a top U.S. official. The unannounced meeting comes amid spiraling violence that included seven American deaths and the discovery of 56 bodies in the Iraqi capital bearing signs of torture.

The bodies found scattered around Baghdad were of Iraqi men between 20 and 45 years old, and all were apparent victims of sectarian death squads, police said Friday.

All wore civilian clothes and had been bound at the wrists and ankles, police Lt. Mohammed Khayon said. He said the bodies showed signs of having been tortured, a common practice among religious extremists who seize victims from private homes or from cars and buses traveling the capital’s dangerous streets.

Such murders almost always go unsolved and Khayon said the police had no solid information on the victims’ identities or their killers.

Shiite militiamen have been blamed for many of Baghdad’s sectarian slayings, which exploded in number following the February bombing of an important Shiite shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra.

Reported ransom note
Meanwhile, Time magazine reported on its Web site that an Iraqi uncle of a kidnapped American soldier received a $250,000 ransom demand for the captive’s release.

The uncle, identified as Entifad Qanbar, told Time that he met this week in Baghdad with an intermediary of the kidnappers who showed him a grainy video on a cell phone screen of a man they claimed was Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, the 41-year-old reservist from Ann Arbor, Mich. The man on the video appeared bloodied and beaten.

Qanbar, a former spokesman for Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress group, was quoted as saying that he was suspicious because the ransom demand was so low, and demanded proof by noon Saturday that his nephew was alive.

Maj. Dawn Dancer of the Michigan National Guard, who was acting as a spokeswoman for the soldier’s Ann Arbor family, said the relatives weren’t giving interviews and that she did not have any information about a ransom demand.

In Iraq, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver declined to elaborate on Maj. Gen. Caldwell’s remarks at a news conference Thursday. Caldwell said there was an ongoing dialogue at different levels for soldier’s release, but he would not say with whom or at what level.

Al-Taayie was visiting his Iraqi wife when he was handcuffed and taken away by gunmen during a visit last week to the woman’s family, Caldwell said.

Saddam verdict Sunday?
Apparently fearing still more bloodshed after Sunday’s expected announcement of a verdict in the trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s defense minister has canceled leave for all army officers.

Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi was heard issuing the order in video of a meeting between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and senior military and security officials, in which al-Maliki upbraided them for failing to stop the capital’s unbridled violence.

“All vacations will be canceled and all those who are on vacation must return,” al-Obeidi said, adding that reserve soldiers would be called up within 12 hours.

Saddam’s trial was intended to heal the fractured nation by exposing the crimes of his regime in a court of law. Instead, it has been seen by many as worsening tensions between majority Shiites and the Sunni minority who made up the bulk of the former ruling class.

Many of Saddam’s fellow Sunni Arabs, along with some Shiites and Kurds, are predicting a firestorm if the Iraqi High Tribunal convicts and then sentences the ex-president to death, as it is widely expected to do.

On the other hand, most Shiites, including al-Maliki, have called for a death sentence, and are likely to be enraged if he escapes the gallows. Al-Maliki said last month he expects “this criminal tyrant will be executed,” saying that would likely break the will of Saddam followers in the insurgency.

Seven U.S. combat deaths
The U.S. military announced the deaths of three soldiers in Baghdad and four Marines in the western province of Anbar, the heart of the Sunni insurgency.

A brief statement said the three soldiers died Thursday when the vehicle they were riding in was struck by a roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad.

A separate announcement said one Marine died from injuries “sustained due to enemy action” on Thursday in Anbar. The military later said three Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7 died Thursday from wounds sustained during combat in Anbar.

The military also said a Baghdad-based soldier had died in a non-combat related incident north of Baghdad on Thursday, raising the death toll in November to 11.

The deaths of two other Marines killed in combat in Anbar on Wednesday — Lance Cpl. Minhee Kim, 20, of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Cpl. Gary A. Koehler, 21, of Ypsilanti, Mich., — were not announced in Baghdad, but released by the Defense Department in Washington.

At least 2,829 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war, according to an Associated Press count.

October was the fourth-deadliest month for U.S. forces since the war began, with the deaths of 105 service members reported.

Negroponte meeting
The Negroponte visit comes five days after the arrival of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who flew to Baghdad after the Iraqi leadership issued a series of bitter complaints about U.S. tactics in the country.

Al-Maliki met with Negroponte in the Iraqi leader’s office in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, according to the prime minister’s spokesman.

The spokesman, Yassin Majid, said the visit was part “of a continuing series of meetings between the Iraqi government and the U.S. administration.” He did not elaborate. U.S. Embassy officials confirmed Negroponte was in the capital but would not comment further.

Video from the prime minister’s office showed Negroponte and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad greeting al-Maliki, with three kisses on the check.

Negroponte’s comments were difficult to hear on the tape, but he was believed to have said President Bush was not tired by the heavy election campaigning for the coming U.S. midterm election in response to an inaudible question from al-Maliki.

Relations between the United States and the Iraqi government have been strained in recent days after al-Maliki issued a series of bitter complaints, at one point saying he was not “America’s man in Iraq.”

Negroponte served as the ambassador to Iraq before Khalilzad.

U.S. voter support for the war is at a low point as the Nov. 7 midterm elections approach, and a top aide to al-Maliki has said he was using the Republicans’ vulnerability on Iraq to leverage concessions from the Bush administration — particularly the speedy withdrawal of American forces from cities to U.S. bases in the country.

U.S. troops acting on intelligence reports raided a building in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing 13 suspected insurgents, the military said.

The building was surrounded and stormed after those inside did not respond to demands to surrender, the military said in a statement e-mailed to media. Five people were killed inside the building, including one man wearing a vest rigged with explosives, while eight men who fled were gunned down by troops on the ground and planes or helicopters circling above, the report said.

Several of those killed appeared to have been foreign fighters from outside Iraq, the report said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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