41 captives rescued in Iraq

Published May 28, 2007

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces freed at least 41 kidnapped Iraqis during a raid Sunday on an al-Qaida hideout northeast of Baghdad, the military said. Some of the victims appeared to have been tortured and had broken bones.

It was apparently the largest number of people ever rescued from al-Qaida, said Col. Steven Boylan, spokesman for Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq.

"This is typical of al-Qaida. This is how they intimidate towns and villages - they take people and hold them, " he said.

Acting on a tip from residents, U.S. forces in violence-wracked Diyala province raided a site near Buhriz, a Sunni Arab village about 5 miles south of Baqubah, U.S. and Iraqi officers said.

There were conflicting accounts of the number of captives, with some officers putting the figure at 41 and others at 42. It was unclear if any suspects were captured, Boylan said.

Some of the captives appeared to be suffering from heat exhaustion. Others gave harrowing accounts of having been hung from the ceiling and tortured, said Army Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, another military spokesman. Evidence of abuse, including broken limbs, appeared to back up their accounts. They were receiving treatment, the military said.

Some of the captives said they had been held for four months, Garver said. Most were middle-aged men, but one said he was 14.

Diyala, a religiously mixed province that long has served as a redoubt of Sunni Arab insurgents fighting the U.S. military and the Iraqi government, has suffered escalating violence since the start of a crackdown in Baghdad three and a half months ago. U.S. officers say they believe insurgents fleeing Baghdad have sought sanctuary in the neighboring province, where the Americans recently deployed an additional 3, 000 forces.

Iranian and U.S. diplomats are scheduled to meet today to discuss how to quell the violence. The meeting will be the first formal and public bilateral meeting between the two nations since 1979. U.S. officials accuse Shiite-ruled Iran of training, financing and arming militants to fan sectarian tensions, while Iran denies the accusation and blames the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq for the violence.

Also Sunday, U.S. and Iraqi troops raided Baghdad's Sadr City slum, arresting a suspect believed involved in smuggling armor-piercing bombs from Iran, the military said. The suspect was part of a cell that also sent Iraqi militants to Iran for training, the statement said.

Information from the Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report.

Fast Facts:

Other Iraq developments

U.S. soldiers killed: Explosions Saturday killed a U.S. soldier in Diyala province and another in Baghdad, the military said Sunday.

Violence: At least 64 Iraqis were killed or found slain in violence across the country. Baghdad police recovered the bodies of at least 44 men shot and killed execution-style, the largest number recovered in a single day since the start of a security crackdown in mid February.

Police resign: In Kut, 70 police officers resigned from an elite unit, saying they were afraid of the Mahdi Army militia of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, police said.

Troop reductions: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said Sunday that most lawmakers believe President Bush will focus on reducing U.S. troops in Iraq once Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, reports in September on the war's progress. "I think most of the people in Congress believe, unless something extraordinary occurs, that we should be on a move to draw" down, said Sessions, who has ranked among Bush's staunchest supporters. He spoke on CBS' Face the Nation.