BAGHDAD, Iraq -- When they saw the box in the street, villagers feared the worst: a bomb or a prop for an ambush. Inside, police officers found the decomposing heads of nine men, each tucked inside a black plastic bag.
The discovery yesterday was the second of its kind near Baqouba in recent days, according to police.
As Iraqi politicians have continued to bicker over who should be appointed to the government's top security jobs, killings have escalated across the country, claiming thousands of lives since the election.
In Baqouba, north of the capital, murders and attacks against Iraqi security forces have soared. On Saturday, eight heads were found in banana crates near the city. One was wrapped like a present. None of the bodies has been found.
But Baghdad continues to be the epicenter of violence.
Yesterday, authorities reported that a car bomb went off near a funeral in a southwestern neighborhood, killing six people and injuring 18. In another part of town, a roadside bomb exploded at a bus stop, killing a woman and wounding two men.
Earlier in the day, the principal of Hamza primary school, Amer Azzawi, a Sunni Arab, was giving his assistant, Suaad Rubaie, a Shiite, a lift home when a gunman killed them in a drive-by shooting in the Shiite slum of Sadr City.
On Baghdad's west side, police found the body of a young woman who had been shot several times.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military said an American soldier with the 49th Military Police Brigade was killed Monday evening when insurgents attacked his convoy with an improvised explosive in the capital.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised to implement a new security plan for Baghdad soon but refused to outline details. He focused instead on the release of 2,500 detainees from Iraqi and U.S.-run prisons in Iraq as part of a campaign of "national reconciliation."
However, the nation has seemingly come further apart since parliamentary elections in December.
Basra, a key port city in the south, has recently become a problem area, with violence exploding among competing Shiite factions. After a recent visit, al-Maliki imposed martial law in the city.
In Ramadi, described by U.S. commanders as the "philosophical heart of the insurgency," American troops come under attack on a daily basis. Several neighborhoods are controlled by insurgents, residents say.
The U.S. military recently moved 1,500 more troops to the province.
The U.S. military announced yesterday that Iraqi soldiers have taken over from American troops in Habaniyah, a town in Anbar province between Fallujah and Ramadi.
It was the first division-level transfer of authority in the western province, the military said.
As elsewhere, U.S. troops will continue to provide logistical support to the Iraqi soldiers, including medical evacuation and air support.
Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.