A group led by the al-Qaeda ally, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has claimed responsibility for killing 49 Iraqi army recruits northeast of Baghdad.

The claim was made in a statement on a website often used by militants. 

It is thought the men were ambushed while on their way home from a training camp. They were then forced to lie on the ground before being shot.

37 bodies were recovered yesterday and 12 this morning on a road leading to the village of Mandali close to the Iranian border.

The soldiers had been based at Kirkush, 55 miles northeast of Baghdad.

A senior security official, who asked not to be named, said the soldiers were unarmed and wearing civilian clothes.

Separately, the Minister for Defence, Willie O'Dea, has said the Irish Government will only consider sending Irish peacekeepers to Iraq if the region was to become much more stable.

The Minister said the issue was discussed with the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, during his recent visit to Ireland.