Iraq is now among the world's top executioners for the first time since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein, an Italian anti-death penalty group said Saturday, reporting that the number of executions rose dramatically last year.
China and Iran are still the world's top two executioners, according to the report released by Hands Off Cain and covering 2009 and the first six months of this year. The group said its estimates were based on reports by media and other rights groups, as the exact number in China and other states is kept secret.
China alone accounted for about 5,000 executions, representing 90 percent of the 5,679 capital punishments worldwide.
The report said Iraq put at least 77 people to death, compared with fewer than 35 in each of the two previous years.
A roadside bomb killed three Iraqi soldiers responding to an earlier blast Saturday in an area south of Baghdad, officials said. One bystander was also killed.
The first explosion near municipal offices in the Rashid district did not cause casualties but was followed by a second bomb as security forces came to the scene — a common tactic of insurgents targeting police and soldiers.
Also Saturday, a website linked to Saddam Hussein's now-outlawed Baath Party posted an audio recording purportedly from a former top deputy of the late Iraqi dictator claiming that the party was "leading the fight to liberate" Iraq.