BAGHDAD, Iraq — The American death toll for October climbed past 100, a grim milestone reached as a top White House envoy turned up unexpectedly in Baghdad on Monday to smooth over a rough patch in U.S.-Iraqi ties. At least 80 people were killed across Iraq, 33 in a Sadr City bombing targeting workers.
A member of the 89th Military Police Brigade was killed in east Baghdad Monday, and a Marine died in fighting in insurgent infested Anbar province the day before, raising to 101 the number of U.S. service members killed in a bloody October, the fourth deadliest month of the war. At least 2,814 American forces have died since the war began.
Upon arriving on an unannounced visit, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley went straight into meetings with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his security chief, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, telling them he "wanted to reinforce some of the things you have heard from our president."
Al-Rubaie told the Associated Press late Monday that Hadley was here to discuss the work of the five-man committee agreed between al-Maliki and Bush Saturday. Hadley also presented some proposals concerning the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces as well as security plans.
"It was a useful visit," he said, but refused to give any details, saying only that Hadley visits were limited to al-Rubaie and al-Maliki.
The White House said Hadley was not on a mission to repair ragged relations, accounts of which it said had been "overblown" by the news media.
"Absolutely not," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council in Washington. "This is a long planned trip to get a first hand report of the situation on the ground from the political, economic and security fronts."
But the timing of the visit argued otherwise.
Visit follows tense week
Last week Al-Maliki issued a string of bitter complaints — at one point saying he wasn't "America's man in Iraq" — after U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad unveiled adjustments in America's Iraq strategy.
The ambassador said the prime minister was in agreement. Al-Maliki angrily charged the White House with infringing on his government's sovereignty and said that he was not consulted.
By week's end, al-Maliki and President Bush held a hastily convened video conference call and agreed to speed the training of Iraqi forces and the return of control over all territory to the Iraqi army.
With American voter support for the war at a low point and the midterm vote just days away, a top aide to al-Maliki said the Iraqi leader was using Bush and Republican vulnerability on the issue to leverage concessions from the White House — particularly the speedy withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities to U.S. bases in the country.
The case of a kidnapped American soldier , meanwhile, took a curious turn when a woman claiming to be his mother-in-law said that the soldier was married to her daughter, a Baghdad college student, and was with the young woman and her family when hooded gunmen handcuffed and threw him in the back seat of a white Mercedes early last week. The marriage would violate military regulations.
The soldier's disappearance prompted a massive and continuing manhunt in Baghdad, with much of it focused on Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite slum in extreme northeastern Baghdad.
The military still had checkpoints surrounding the district Monday when a suspected Sunni insurgent bomber slipped in and set off a bomb among laborers assembled to find a day's work. The blast tore through food stalls and kiosks shortly after 6 a.m., killing at least 33 and wounding 59.
There were conflicting reports as to whether the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber or a device concealed amid debris by the roadside.
Sadr City, is a stronghold of the Mahdi Army loyal to radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and has been the scene of repeated bomb attacks by suspected al-Qaida fighters in what were seen as attempts to incite Shiite revenge attacks and drag the country into full-blown civil war.
Threat of action from al-Sadr
Al-Sadr, in a statement addressed to supporters in Sadr City Monday night, warned of unspecified action if the "siege" of the neighborhood continued and criticized what he called the silence of politicians over actions by the U.S. military in the district.
"If this siege continues for long, we will resort to actions which I will have no choice but to take, God willing, and when the time is right," he said in the statement, a text of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Ali Abdul-Ridha, injured in the head and shoulders, said he was waiting for a job with his brother and about 100 others when he heard the massive explosion and "lost sight of everything."
He said the area had been exposed to attack because U.S. and Iraqi forces had driven into hiding Mahdi Army fighters who police the district.
"That forced Mahdi Army members, who were patrolling the streets, to vanish," the 41-year-old Abdul-Ridha said from his bed in al-Sadr Hospital, his brother lying beside him asleep.
However, Falih Jabar, a 37-year old father of two boys, blamed the militia forces for provoking extremists to attack civilians in the neighborhood of 2.5 million people.
‘Fight them, not us’
"We are poor people just looking to make a living. We have nothing to do with any conflict," said Jabar, who suffered back wounds. "If (the extremists) have problems with the Mahdi Army, they must fight them, not us," he added.
The last major bombing in Sadr City occurred on Sept. 23 when a bomb hidden in a barrel blew up a kerosene tanker and killed at least 35 people waiting to stock up on fuel for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Elsewhere in the capital, gunmen killed hard-line Sunni academic Essam al-Rawi, head of the University Professors Union, as he was leaving home. At least 156 university professors have been killed since the war began. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, more are believed to have fled to neighboring countries, although Education Ministry spokesman Basil al-Khatib al-Khatib said he had no specific numbers on those who had fled.
Police and security officials throughout Iraq reported that at least 45 other people, many of them police, were killed in sectarian violence Monday or found dead, many of them dumped in the Tigris River and a tributary south of the capital.
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