BAGHDAD, Iraq — A group of at least 49 soldiers of the new Iraq Army were ambushed and killed while on their way home after graduating from training, a U.S. military official said.
The soldiers appeared to have been forced to lie face down on the ground and then were shot dead at close range, Diyala province police chief Major General Waleed Khalid Abdul Salam told CNN.
An official with the 30th Brigade Combat Unit of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division said 49 bodies had been found.
Discovery of the soldiers’ bodies was followed by news that a U.S. security official assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was killed by a mortar attack on a U.S. Army base near Baghdad airport.
The soldiers who died were surprised and captured Saturday on a road near the Iranian border, about 80 miles (130 km) east of Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Salam said.
The ambush happened between 3 and 5 p.m. Saturday and the bodies were found in groups of 12 and 13 around midnight, he added.
The soldiers, who were found with their army IDs, had just graduated from training, he said.
They were riding in three minibuses and had departed from the training camp in Kirkush, about 90 km (55 miles) northeast of Baghdad, Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul Rahman said.
They were headed toward their homes in the southern provinces, he said.
CNN’s Karl Penhaul says that the soldiers were unarmed and in civilian clothes. It is thought they were intercepted at a checkpoint manned by insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades, he said.
Penhaul said the killings were part of a growing pattern in Iraq with insurgents aiming to deter men from joining the new Iraq army.
On Saturday two suicide car bombings and a drive-by shooting killed at least 14 people in separate incidents.
The deadliest attack took place in western Iraq near Haditha, Camp Al-Asad, which is located along the Euphrates River about 124 miles west-northwest of Baghdad.
U.S. Marine spokesman Lt. Lyle Gilbert said the suicide attacker killed 10 Iraqi police and wounded at least five others, and there were no U.S. casualties.
But an Iraqi journalist on the scene said at least 30 people were wounded in the blast.
The car bomb targeted a police station, where dozens of Iraqis were lined up to surrender their weapons and/or join the police force, several witnesses told the journalist.
Several hours later, a suicide car bomb detonated at a highway checkpoint near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.
Two Iraqi national guard members were killed and another was wounded, a U.S. military spokesman said.
In the third attack, in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, insurgents in a vehicle fired on a five-truck convoy, killing two Turkish drivers and wounding two other Turks, local officials said.
An Iraqi national guard official said that attackers in a BMW fired at the convoy, which was arriving from Baghdad around 12:30 p.m. The trucks had delivered food to U.S. military bases in Baghdad, the national guard official said.
Earlier the U.S. military said that a newly promoted associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been arrested in Iraq on Saturday.
The al-Zarqawi associate was seized early Saturday along with five other terrorists in southern Falluja, the insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, the military said.
Their identities were not disclosed.
Initially, the al-Zarqawi associate was thought to be a minor member of the terrorist’s circle, however “due to a surge in the number of al-Zarqawi associates who have been captured or killed by [multinational forces] strikes and other operations, the member had moved up to take a critical position as an al-Zarqawi senior leader,” the U.S. military said.
Falluja has been the site of intensified U.S. attacks in recent weeks, with American forces stepping up their efforts against al-Zarqawi and his Unification and Jihad group, which has staged attacks against U.S. forces, Iraqi police and civilians.
The U.S. State Department is offering $25 million for the capture or death of al-Zarqawi, blamed for the recent series of beheadings and who last week swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden.
In another development, al-Zarqawi’s followers have dispersed to Falluja’s outlying areas, where they are attempting to hide among the civilian population, according to a U.S. military news release.
Iraqi interim government officials Saturday told reporters at a news conference that the government was trying to maintain ongoing discussions with leaders of Falluja.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have threatened to launch a new offensive on Falluja if its tribal and religious leaders fail to hand over al-Zarqawi and other militants.
In another development, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said the weapons handover program — an arms for cash plan — in Baghdad’s Sadr City has been “very successful” and he reiterated a comment earlier in the week by the government that it intends to expand it to other cities.
Also, the Marines reported on Saturday the deaths of three Iraqi civilians, killed Thursday when insurgents using small arms and a roadside bomb attacked a U.S. Marine patrol near the south-central city of Iskandariya.