Police in Iraq Find Bodies of 41 Killed in Insurgent Attacks

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A suicide bomber in a garbage truck packed with explosives killed two policemen near a Baghdad hotel Wednesday and police found 41 corpses, shot or decapitated, in the heartland of Iraq's insurgency.

Huge plumes of smoke blackened the Baghdad sky as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene of the bombing. Hospital officials said two policemen were killed and dozens of others taken to the hospital for treatment.

Al-Qaida's wing in Iraq, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said it carried out the Baghdad attack that wounded at least 20 others -- part of its campaign to bring down the government and drive out U.S. troops.

The killings of the 41, some found in Qaim near the Syrian border and other locations south of Baghdad in what is known as the "triangle of death," bore the marks of the insurgency -- some were shot in the head, others beheaded.

In Qaim, 500 kilometers west of Baghdad, the bodies of 26 people, including one woman, were found. A hospital doctor said the victims, in civilian clothes, had been shot two days ago.

Mainly Sunni insurgents have kept up a campaign of suicide attacks, car bombings and execution-style killings, denting Iraqi and U.S. officials' hopes that Iraq's landmark Jan. 30 elections would help stabilize the country.

 Iraq's interim planning minister escaped an assassination attempt Wednesday after gunmen opened fire on his convoy in the capital, The Associated Press reported. The minister, Mahdi al-Hafidh, survived the attack, but one of his bodyguards was killed and two others were wounded, police said. No other details were immediately available.