By Kareem Raheem
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Police discovered the bodies of 18 men who had been abducted and shot in the head near Baghdad on Friday, and the decapitated corpses of seven men killed in a separate attack in northern Iraq.
The 18 bodies were found together in an orchard in Meshahda, a predominantly Sunni Muslim area around 30 km (20 miles) north of Baghdad. A senior police source blamed al Qaeda.
Such killings are on the rise in Iraq, alongside a growing insurgent campaign of bomb and gun attacks on security forces and civilians.
The victims in Meshahda were taken from their homes early on Friday by men wearing military uniforms and driving six SUVs, police sources said.
Among them were a police officer, an army official, the headmaster of a school, a Sunni tribal sheikh and his son.
"It is definitely al Qaeda because this is the area where they are operating," a senior official in Iraq's federal police said, declining to be named.
The victims may have been chosen because they were seen as supporting Iraq's Shi'ite-led government, the source added.
Abductors dressed as soldiers have often carried out such killings in the area.
AL QAEDA TARGETS
Although al Qaeda-linked militants in Iraq mainly carry out attacks on Shi'ites, they also target fellow Sunnis through kidnappings, killings and extortion.
Security officials, government employees from both sects and government-backed Sunni Sahwa militia members are all seen as prime targets for the Islamist group.
The goal of such attacks "is to weaken the relationship between the people and the security forces", Ali al-Haidari, an Iraqi security expert, told Reuters.
In the attack further north, police found the beheaded corpses of seven male laborers, two police sources said.
They had been dumped in a yard in a northern neighborhood of Tikrit, a city 150 km (90 miles) north of Baghdad. The victims, believed to be Sunnis, were all under 30 and had been working on the construction site of a stadium.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the violence, but security officials have described the area as being another stronghold of al Qaeda.
This year has been Iraq's most violent since 2006-7, when tens of thousands of people died at the height of sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shi'ites.
On Wednesday, police found the bodies of 13 people around Baghdad, the apparent victims of execution-style shootings.
(Additional reporting by Raheem Salman and Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad and Ghazwan Hassan in Tikrit; Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Andrew Roche)