The Iraqi government plans to dig trenches around Baghdad in an attempt to halt savage killings that have led to the torture-deaths of almost 200 people this week.
The conflict reached new heights of savagery this week, with the almost daily discovery of dozens of Iraqis whose mutilated, bullet-riddled bodies have been dumped in and around Baghdad.
Among the latest gruesome discoveries was of a headless and legless corpse floating in a river at Mussayab on Thursday night. The Interior Ministry said 50 more bodies had been found overnight. Many had been shot in the head after being tied up and tortured.
"It's barbaric but sadly we've become used to it," said a ministry official, referring to the new tactics added to the insurgency's recourse to suicide bombings, car bombs and roadside explosive devices. "Forty bodies, 60 bodies; it's become a daily routine."
The number of bodies showing signs of torture reached a peak on Thursday, when 60 were found. Several of this week's victims were floating in the river Tigris which flows through the capital.
The bodies have been left in both Sunni and Shia areas of Baghdad. But Iraqis say that the sudden upsurge in the killings cannot be blamed solely on the burgeoning sectarian warfare and the "death squads" run by Sunni and Shia militia. "Like you, we are trying to understand," said one Iraqi official.
Some of the violence could be the work of criminal gangs who commit kidnappings and extortion. But the hallmark of the latest violence - in the face of a US-led security operation in Baghdad in the past month - has been its savagery. Analysts said the killings could have been committed by supporters of the ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, or by foreign "jihadists".
President George Bush has denied again that Iraq is in the throes of civil war, but Robert Lowe, a Middle East analyst at the British think-tank Chatham House said: "Ordinary killings are commonplace now. It shows that the counter-insurgency is not working. It's not an all-out civil war according to the definition. But the semantics really don't matter now, because what is happening is so horrendous."
The Baghdad trenches are to be constructed with checkpoints around the city's 50-mile circumference to prevent insurgents entering the city. But they could take months to build. Brigadier Abdul Karim, of the Interior Ministry, told the BBC that hundreds of minor roads would be sealed off, so the city could be accessed only at 28 checkpoints.
The American ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, said on Thursday that the ethnic and sectarian violence was "one of the most significant threats to security and stability in Iraq." He said that, over the past three months, the average number of weekly attacks had increased by 15 per cent, while Iraqi casualties had increased by 51 per cent compared to the previous three months.
Sectarian killings have also spread to the relatively peaceful regions of southern Iraq. The American military says the violence has intensified in areas not yet covered by the security sweep known as Operation Together Forward, which involves 12,000 US and Iraqi soldiers.
American troops have been diverted from the western province of Anbar to bolster troops fighting the insurgency in Baghdad. A classified American intelligence report leaked to The Washington Post this week admitted that, despite having 30,000 soldiers in Anbar, the western Sunni heartland where the resistance is strong, the military had failed to pacify the province. The assessment, by Colonel Peter Devlin, concluded that al-Qa'ida, and not the Iraqi government, was the strongest movement in the vast desert region.
The Americans said that a senior member of al- Qa'ida in Iraq, Abu Jaafar al-Liby, had been killed by Iraqi police. He was reported as carrying a letter for Osama bin Laden. Another was said to be addressed to Abu Ayyoub al-Masri, who is thought to be the leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq.
One week of violence
By Peter Henry
Eleven bodies found showing signs of torture. Six of the 11 discovered floating in the Tigris river about 100 miles south of Baghdad. All were blindfolded, bound and showing signs of torture.
Twenty-nine Iraqis killed, 24 of them in Baghdad. Five bodies turn up in the Tigris. In eastern Baghdad, the bodies of two men are found dumped in the street. The men's hands and feet are tied; they have been shot in the head and chest. Three men's bodies found floating in the Tigris 25 miles south of Baghdad. The bodies are blindfolded, bound and showed signs of torture.
Sixty bodies are found scattered around Baghdad. Most are bound and have been shot in the head and many show signs of torture.
Thirty-two bodies are found after another night's sectarian violence, including a Shia family of seven executed in their home in a Sunni district in western Baghdad.
The leader of Iraq's biggest Sunni Arab group demands that the Shia-led government take steps to disarm the militias responsible.
Fifty more bodies are found in Baghdad, mostly shot in the head after being tied up and tortured. The US military admits a "spike" in the murder rate this week, despite a month-old security crackdown. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister announces that the government plans to propose an anti-militia law in October.Reuse content