Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, Wednesday night escaped a suicide bomb assassination attempt, hours after officials said dozens had been killed in two separate massacres, raising fears of an escalation in the insurgency. Allawi's convoy was attacked as he headed to his home in the Iraqi capital after talks on the formation of the new government, details of which are likely to be unveiled Thursday, a government spokesman said.
One policeman was killed and two were injured in the attack, but the prime minister escaped unscathed. Bursts of gunfire were heard after the explosion rocked a police checkpoint in the western neighborhood where Allawi's home and party headquarters are located.
At least eight other Iraqis were killed in a spate of other suicide bombs that rocked the capital Wednesday.
Farther afield, officials acknowledged two grisly discoveries that yielded at least 70 corpses and, if confirmed, would underline the audacity of an insurgency that seems able to slaughter at will, despite coalition claims that it is losing momentum.
President Jalal Talabani said more than 50 corpses had been dragged from the Tigris River. And at Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, 19 men were found dead in a stadium.
"We have the full names of those who were killed and those criminals who committed these crimes," Talabani said of the grim discovery in the Tigris. But he did not specify the location or timing while answering questions about a search for hostages allegedly seized last week in Madaen, 14 miles south of Baghdad.
An unnamed police lieutenant colonel told the Agence France-Presse that 57 decomposing bodies of men, women and children were found between al-Wahda and al-Hafriya, about 10 miles downriver from Madaen. He said police had photographed and buried the bodies outside the town of Suwayrah.
The claim deepened the mystery over what happened at Madaen. Shiite politicians said last weekend that Sunni gunmen had taken dozens of civilians and had threatened to kill them if other Shiites did not leave. Some reported relatives missing. But when Iraqi security forces entered Madaen they found no hostages, but plenty of residents saying the story was untrue. Some mainstream Sunni leaders agreed with militants that Shiite politicians had manufactured the drama. If bodies have been found it will inflame tension between the majority Shiites, poised to assume power after decades of oppression, and the Sunnis.
In Haditha, residents heard gunshots from a football stadium and reportedly found the bodies of 19 men by a bloodstained wall. The men wore civilian clothing but were believed to have been soldiers on their way home for a religious holiday.
More than 400 Iraqi police and soldiers have died in the past two months, many ambushed while off-duty.
On Tuesday night a suicide car bomber in southern Baghdad killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded four others. At least 10 Iraqis died in other attacks earlier that day.
The January election was credited for a relative lull in violence, but there is still no new government and the mayhem is back. President Talabani said he hoped the squabbling coalition of Kurds and Shiites that won the election would announce a cabinet Thursday.