BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — In one of their boldest and most
brutal attacks yet, insurgents waylaid three minibuses carrying
U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers heading home on leave and massacred
about 50 of them — many of them shot in the head
execution-style, officials said yesterday.

Eston Bond
Soldiers of the Iraqi National Guard stand by the bodies of fellow Iraqi soldiers in Mendeli, north-east of Baquba, Iraq, yesterday. The bodies of about 50 Iraqi soldiers were found in eastern Iraq, the victims of an ambush. (AP PHOTO)

A claim of responsibility posted on an Islamist Web site
attributed the attack to followers of Jordanian-born terror
mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The killing of so many Iraqi soldiers — unarmed and in
civilian clothes — in such an apparently sure-footed
operation reinforced American and Iraqi suspicions that the
country’s security services have been infiltrated by
insurgents.

Also yesterday, a U.S. diplomat was killed when a rebel’s
rocket or mortar shell crashed into the trailer where he slept, the
U. S. Embassy announced.

Edward Seitz, an agent with the State Department’s Bureau
of Diplomatic Security, was killed at about 5 a.m. at Camp Victory,
the main U.S. base near Baghdad International Airport, said embassy
spokesman Bob Callahan.

Seitz, a longtime State Department investigator who served in
Detroit before heading to Baghdad, is believed to be the first U.S.
diplomat killed in Iraq since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in
March 2003, an embassy spokesman said on condition of
anonymity.

The unarmed Iraqi soldiers killed yesterday were on their way
home after completing a training course at the Kirkush military
camp northeast of Baghdad when their buses were stopped Saturday
evening by rebels near the Iranian border about 95 miles east of
Baghdad, Interior Ministry spokesman Adnan Abdul-Rahman said.

Some accounts by police said the rebels were dressed in Iraqi
military uniforms. There was confusion over precise figures,
although the Iraqi National Guard said 48 troops and three drivers
were killed.

Abdul-Rahman said 37 bodies were found yesterday on the ground
with their hands behind their backs, shot in the head
execution-style. Twelve others were found in a burned bus, he said.
Some officials quoted witnesses as saying insurgents fired
rocket-propelled grenades at one bus. “After inspection, we
found out that they were shot after being ordered to lay down on
the earth,” Gen. Walid al-Azzawi, commander of the Diyala
provincial police, said, adding that the bodies were laid out in
four rows, with 12 bodies in each row.

In a website posting, the al-Qaida in Iraq, formerly known as
Tawhid and Jihad, claimed responsibility for the ambush, saying
“God enabled the Mujahedeen to kill all” the soldiers
and “seize two cars and money.”

The claim could not be verified but appeared on a website used
in the past by Islamic extremists.

Al-Zarqawi and his movement are believed to be behind dozens of
attacks on Iraqi and U.S.-led forces and kidnappings of foreigners.
Many of those hostages, including three Americans, have been
beheaded — some purportedly by al-Zarqawi himself. The United
States has put a $25 million bounty on al-Zarqawi — the same
amount as for Osama bin Laden.

U.S. officials believe al-Zarqawi’s group is headquartered
in Fallujah, an insurgent bastion 40 miles west of Baghdad.
Yesterday, a U.S. Marine F-18 Hornet jet struck an insurgent
position there, the U.S. military said.

Witnesses said six people were killed.

Fallujah fell under rebel control after the Bush administration
ordered Marines to lift their three-week siege of the city in
April. U.S. commanders have spoken of a new offensive to clear
rebel strongholds ahead of Iraq’s crucial elections in
January.

Scattered explosions rumbled through central Baghdad late Sunday
but the cause could not be determined.

Iraqi police and soldiers have been increasingly targeted by
insurgents, mostly with car bombs and mortar shells. However, the
fact that the insurgents were able to strike at so many unarmed
soldiers in such a remote region suggested the guerrillas may have
had advance word on the soldiers’ travel.

“There was probably collusion among the soldiers or other
groups,” Diyala’s deputy Gov. Aqil Hamid al-Adili told
Al-Arabiya television. “Otherwise, the gunmen would not have
gotten the information about the soldiers’ departure from
their training camp and that they were unarmed.”

Last week, a U.S. defense official told reporters in Washington
that some members of the Iraqi security services have developed
sympathies and contacts with the guerrillas. In other instances,
infiltrators were sent to join the security services, the official
said on condition of anonymity.

He cited a mortar attack Tuesday on an Iraqi National Guard
compound north of Baghdad as a possible inside job. The attackers
apparently knew when and where the soldiers were gathering and
dropped mortar rounds in the middle of their formation. At least
four Iraqis were killed and 80 wounded.

The extent of rebel infiltration is unknown. However, it raises
concern about the American strategy of handing over more and more
responsibility to Iraqi security forces so U.S. forces could be
drawn down.

One American soldier also was wounded in the pre-dawn attack
that killed Seitz, the State Department official. The attack
occurred at Camp Victory, the headquarters of the U.S.-led
coalition’s ground forces command.

Seitz was believed to be the first full-time State Department
officer killed in Iraq. Last October, a female U.S. Foreign Service
officer was severely wounded in the arm in a rocket barrage on the
Rasheed Hotel.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects
of the Iraq war, was in the hotel at the time but escaped
injury

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