The bodies of more than 50 people have been recovered from the Tigris River and have been identified, President Jalal Talabani said Wednesday. He said the bodies were believed to have been those of hostages seized in a region south of Baghdad earlier this month.
In a separate discovery, another 19 Iraqis were shot to death and left against a bloodstained wall in a soccer stadium in the town of Haditha, about 225 kilometres northwest of Baghdad, an Iraqi reporter and residents said.
Talabani did not specify when or where the bodies were recovered from the Tigris. However, he gave the information in response to a question about the search for hostages reportedly seized from the area around Madain, 23 km south of Baghdad.
Shiite leaders and government officials claimed last week that Sunni militants had abducted as many as 100 Shiite residents from the area and were threatening to kill them unless all Shiites left. But when Iraqi forces moved into the town of about 1,000 families over the weekend, they found no captives, and residents said they had seen no evidence anyone had been seized.
"Terrorists committed crimes there," Talabani said. "It is not true to say there were no hostages. There were. They were killed, and they threw the bodies into the Tigris.
"We have the full names of those who were killed and those criminals who committed these crimes."
In Haditha, taxi drivers Rauf Salih and Ousama Halim said they rushed to the stadium after hearing gunshots and found the bodies lined up against a wall. The reporter and other residents counted 19 bodies and said all appeared to have been shot.
Residents said they believed the victims - all men in civilian clothes - were soldiers abducted by insurgents as they headed home for a holiday marking the birthday of the prophet Muhammad.
The reporter did not see any military identification documents on the bodies and it was not possible to verify the claim, which may have been based on a previous incidents, including one in October when insurgents ambushed and executed about 50 unarmed Iraqi soldiers as they were heading home from a U.S. military training camp northeast of Baghdad.
Militant violence has surged in the past week, especially in Baghdad, with explosions often going off one after anoth