BAGHDAD -- Insurgents took aim again yesterday at Sunni Arabs who have joined forces with U.S. troops against al-Qaida, setting off a car bomb in Anbar province that killed at least two police, officials said in Ramadi.
The Bush administration, meanwhile, stepped up pressure on the political front, sending the No. 2 State Department official to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials.
A group linked to al-Qaida claimed to be holding 14 Iraqi police and soldiers to avenge Shiite attacks on Sunnis, and it threatened to kill them within 72 hours. The claim appeared on a video posted on an Internet site by Islamic State of Iraq, which showed 14 men in Iraqi police and military uniforms.
However, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, which oversees police, denied that any officers had been abducted and said the men in the video were neither police nor soldiers, common targets of the Sunni insurgency.
Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization comprising several groups linked to al-Qaida, also has claimed involvement in the abduction of three U.S. soldiers last month south of Baghdad. One of the soldiers was found dead, and Islamic State of Iraq says the other two are dead.
In its latest statement, the group said it had seized Iraqi forces to demand the release of Sunni women held in Iraqi prisons and the arrest of people "who participated in the rape" of Sunni women and "all the members who killed, displaced and raped our families in Tal Afar."
Dozens of Sunnis died in the northern city of Tal Afar after Shiite gunmen, including police, went on a rampage after a bombing March 27 that killed at least 83 Shiites.
In the meeting in Baghdad, al-Maliki assured Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte that his government would persist in its efforts to pass a measure to share oil wealth among Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, as well as a bill allowing former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to government jobs and join the military.
The meeting came as Americans are pressing the Shiite-led government to show progress on political reforms to bring the disaffected Sunni minority into the political process and stem support for the insurgency.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have pinned their hopes on the adoption of the laws as well as the Baghdad operation to quell sectarian attacks, but Iraq's fractured political parties have failed to reach final agreement on any of them.
Earlier yesterday, one Iraqi police officer died in an attack in a Sunni-dominated area northwest of Baghdad. Four other policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded on the road between the northern city of Kirkuk and Zab, about 25 miles west of Kirkuk.
In Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, a car bomb exploded in a western neighborhood, targeting a police patrol. Police said two officers were killed and at least four people were wounded.
In Diyala province, another hotbed of insurgent activity, police said a truck bomb blew up near an Iraqi military base 15 miles southwest of Baqouba, killing at least two people and injuring six. It was not immediately clear whether the victims were civilians or soldiers.
In Baghdad, 32 people were reported killed in various attacks, including 26 men whose bodies were found scattered around the city, apparent victims of sectarian death squads.
In a sign of the methods being practiced by insurgents to wreak havoc, two people were injured when a body exploded as they sought to retrieve it from a street in the Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour. Later, two other corpses exploded as police dragged them by ropes after being warned not to pick up the bodies.
Tina Susman writes for the Los Angeles Times.