In Iraq Violence, at Least 40 Die, and a Soccer Star Is Kidnapped

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BAGHDAD, Iraq — Police found the tortured, blindfolded bodies of 33 men scattered across the capital yesterday, and the American-led coalition reported combat deaths of seven servicemen, a day after Iraqi leaders said the capture of a top terrorism suspect would reduce violence.

Kidnappers also dragged off a popular soccer star in Baghdad, while a security crackdown in the city expanded into the upscale Mansour neighborhood.

An Al Qaeda-affiliated group dismissed the Iraqi government’s claim that the organization’s second most important leader had been arrested, suggesting the man was not a senior figure and denying the group had suffered a significant blow.

On Sunday, Iraq’s national security adviser announced the arrest of Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, also known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, and said Al Qaeda in Iraq had suffered a “serious leadership crisis.”

But an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab militant groups that includes Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Mujahedeen Shura Council, issued a statement yesterday saying its “leadership was in the best condition.”

The statement did not directly deny the arrest or say what position Mr. Saeedi held, although it suggested he was not the no. 2 leader.

The security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, described Mr. Saeedi as the second most important Al Qaeda in Iraq figure behind Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who is believed to have taken over the group after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by an American airstrike in June.

Mr. Saeedi was involved in the February 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, Mr. Rubaie said. The attack inflamed tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims and set off reprisal killings that have killed hundreds of Iraqis, like those found in Baghdad yesterday.

Police said they the 33 bullet-riddled bodies all showed signs of torture and had their hands and feet bound. The men had been dumped around several neighborhoods, police said.

Two other bodies were found dumped on a highway in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad. Both had been shot in the head and chest, Maamoun Ajil al-Robaiei said at Kut hospital’s morgue.

The Mujahedeen Shura Council’s statement also said insurgents have been inflicting heavy losses on American troops in western Anbar province and in Baghdad.

The American-led coalition said seven of its personnel had been killed the past two days — five Americans and two Britons.

On Sunday, two American Marines were killed in Anbar, and two Army soldiers died from roadside bombs in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, and near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the capital. A roadside bomb killed another soldier yesterday. A sixth American died of noncombat injuries, the military said.

In the south, a roadside bomb killed two British soldiers and seriously wounded a third north of the southern city of Basra, a British military spokesman, Major Charlie Burbridge, said.

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