BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi police said on Wednesday they had found the body of one of three missing U.S. soldiers while nine others were killed in attacks, setting May on course to be one of the bloodiest months for American forces in Iraq.
Twenty people were killed when a suicide bomber wearing an explosives-packed vest walked into a crowded cafe in Mandali, a mainly Shi’ite Kurd town about 100 km (60 miles) northeast of Baghdad, police said.
The town’s mayor put the death toll at 11. Mandali is in the volatile Diyala province, a large, religiously mixed area which has seen some of the worst violence since 2003.
Police said the corpse of a Western-looking man pulled from the Euphrates River south of Baghdad on Wednesday was that of one of three U.S. soldiers missing since an ambush on May 12. The half-naked body had bullet wounds and bore signs of torture.
Captain Muthanna al-Maamouri, a police spokesman in the provincial capital Hilla, said there were wounds to the torso and shaved head of the body, which was wearing U.S. Army-issue pants and boots and had a tattoo on the left arm.
“This is one of the missing soldiers,” he said.
The U.S. military said it had the body and was trying to establish whether it was one of those missing since the May 12 attack south of Baghdad, when four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi translator were killed.
A river patrol police officer in Mussayab, 60 km (40 miles) south of Baghdad, said the man appeared to have been killed about a week ago, and his head showed signs of torture.
Thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers have been scouring farmland for the missing troops in an area south of Baghdad known as the “Triangle of Death” since the ambush.
The al Qaeda-led Islamic State in Iraq has claimed responsibility for the attack near Mahmudiya but has offered no proof that it holds the three missing soldiers.
U.S. military officials have said they believe at least two of the soldiers were still alive.
The U.S. military also reported the deaths of nine more soldiers and Marines in five separate bomb and shooting attacks on Monday and Tuesday, ensuring May would be one of the bloodiest for U.S. forces since the 2003 invasion.
Eighty soldiers have now been killed since the beginning of May and 3,431 since the U.S. invasion began. The worst month for U.S. forces this year was April, when 104 soldiers were killed.
Late on Wednesday, the U.S. military said a U.S. State Department convoy was attacked by gunmen in eastern Baghdad. Security forces backed by Apache helicopters repelled the attack and no members of the convoy were hurt, it said.
Police in the Sinak area of east Baghdad said four civilians were killed and 11 wounded in the incident.
Thousands of extra troops have been deployed in Baghdad and other areas as part of a security crackdown aimed at dragging Iraq back from the brink of all-out sectarian civil war.
U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver said the military had anticipated the possibility of more troop casualties when it launched the crackdown in mid-February.
U.S. officials say the crackdown has helped reduce the number of targeted sectarian killings between majority Shi’ites Muslims and Sunni Arabs dominant under Saddam.
But the number of murders has been creeping back up recently. Police said 63 bodies had been found around Baghdad on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The crackdown is an attempt to buy time for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government to meet a series of political targets set by Washington, including a revenue-sharing oil law, designed to promote national reconciliation.
“These are tasks that must be completed, and completed soon, to achieve the national reconciliation that the vast majority of Iraqis desire,” U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said in a statement marking the first anniversary of Maliki’s government.
Additional reporting by Ross Colvin and Aseel Kami in Baghdad