BAGHDAD — Suicide bombers killed more than two dozen people in separate attacks Friday and police discovered 14 bodies buried in a garbage dump, the latest deaths in a barrage of violence that has escalated since the announcement of a new government last week.
A car bomb tore through a crowded marketplace in the afternoon in Suwayrah, a predominantly Shiite Muslim town southeast of Baghdad, killing 16 people, Iraqi officials said.
And as U.S. authorities declared progress in capturing or killing members of Abu Musab Zarqawi's inner circle, the Jordanian militant's group claimed responsibility for an attack Friday that killed nine Iraqi police officers. They died when a car bomb exploded near their checkpoint on the main road between Tikrit and Kirkuk.
Also on Friday, three men believed to have worked in a local office of Muqtada Sadr, a radical Shiite cleric who has clashed with U.S. forces, were gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Sadiya.
More than 270 people have been killed in Iraq since the new government, the country's first elected administration in decades, was announced. The attacks have highlighted sectarian fault lines, with apparent revenge killings of Sunnis and Shiites becoming more and more common.
Iraqi police said the bodies of 14 men wearing dishdasha robes were found in shallow graves at a garbage dump on the northeastern outskirts of Baghdad. Blindfolded and handcuffed, the men were barefoot and had been shot in the head. Some bore signs of torture, police said.
A prominent Sunni group, the Muslim Scholars Assn., said men dressed as police officers had abducted the victims Thursday at dawn by a vegetable market near Madaen, which has been a center of tension between Shiites and Sunnis in recent weeks.
Last month, dozens of bodies were pulled from the Tigris near the town; Shiite leaders have alleged they were victims of sectarian violence.
The Sunni group provided the names of the 14 victims, whose bodies were found in the predominantly Shiite district of east Baghdad. They all were apparently members of the Dulaimi clan, one of Iraq's largest Sunni tribes, triggering fears of retaliatory killings.
Clerics called for restraint and political cooperation during Friday prayers.
In Baghdad's Umm Qura Mosque, headquarters of the hard-line Muslim Scholars Assn., the imam, Sheik Harith Dhari, called for unity.
"We have no objections that our president and prime minister is a Kurd, Arab or a Turkmen, Sunni or Shiite as long as he is honest, loyal and serves the country," Dhari said.
In Kufa, after prayers, a scuffle broke out between members of the Iraqi national guard and followers of Sadr. In several interviews afterward, clerics moved to pacify any protest, playing down reports that Sadr's Al Mahdi militia had been called in as backup.
In the nearby holy city of Najaf, imam Sadruddin Qubanchi commemorated a Shiite student who was assassinated last week after celebrating over the new government. He also said sectarianism should be avoided.
"We are with the Sunni brothers ... fighting terrorism," Qubanchi said in his sermon. "The terrorists must know that the story of internal sedition is over."
Discontent among the formerly powerful Sunni Arabs is believed to be fueling the insurgency.
Slowed by religious and sectarian infighting, the new government took three months to form. Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, a Shiite, still has to fill several key posts, including the ministers for oil and defense -- believed to have been earmarked for a Shiite and a Sunni, respectively.
Shiites hold a majority of seats in the National Assembly, which is charged with writing a constitution by Aug. 15.
U.S. authorities released an unusual five-page statement Friday detailing the capture or killing of 20 people believed to be top Zarqawi lieutenants.
"We're picking these guys up," said Col. Don Alston, a spokesman for the U.S.-led forces. "The leadership circle is getting smaller."
Among those captured is a man believed to be Zarqawi's driver, who was apprehended Feb. 20 in Al Anbar province. During that raid, Zarqawi escaped but left behind a laptop the Americans say has yielded valuable information.
Authorities on Tuesday released a seized letter allegedly intended for Zarqawi from an underling that complains of morale problems among his fighters. The U.S. military said the April 27 letter, which could not be verified independently, shows Zarqawi's diminishing power.
Times staff writers Raheem Salman, Caesar Ahmed, Saif Rasheed and Shamil Aziz contributed to this report.