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33 people die in bomb blast at site for jobs



Published: Tue, October 31, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The death toll for U.S. service members in October reached 101 Monday.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Ali Abdul-Ridha, wounded in the head and shoulders, said he was waiting for a job with his brother and about 100 others when he heard a huge explosion and "lost sight of everything."

The bomb tore through food stalls and kiosks in Baghdad's sprawling Sadr City slum Monday, killing 33 people and wounding 59. The explosion, carried out by a suspected Sunni insurgent, targeted poor Shiites who gather there each morning hoping for jobs as construction workers.

Those who lost their lives were among 81 Iraqis killed or found dead across Iraq on Monday. According to an Associated Press count, October has also recorded more Iraqi civilian deaths -- 1,170 so far -- than any other month since the AP began keeping track in May 2005.

The attack in Sadr City came on a day that saw the U.S. military's death toll for the month of October climb past 100, a grim milestone as a White House envoy turned up unexpectedly in Baghdad after a rough patch in U.S.-Iraqi ties.

A member of the 89th Military Police Brigade was killed in east Baghdad on Monday, and a Marine died in fighting in insurgent-plagued 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 in March 2003.

Effect on election

The war and the rising American casualties have produced a huge drag on Republican candidates as the U.S. midterm election approaches. The vote is seen in many cases as a referendum on the war, which has stretched into its 44th month. The Bush administration has invested heavy attention on Iraq in recent weeks, trying to put a new face on the conflict with mixed results.

Upon arriving for 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 AP late Monday that Hadley was here to discuss the work of a five-man committee that al-Maliki and Bush agreed to 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's meetings 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 firsthand report of the situation on the ground from the political, economic and security fronts."

But the timing of the visit argued otherwise.

Al-Maliki's complaints

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 announced that the prime minister agreed to implement a set of timelines, prompting al-Maliki to accuse the White House of infringing on his government's sovereignty and say 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 as the Nov. 7 congressional election approaches, a top aide to al-Maliki said the Iraqi leader was using the GOP's 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.

Al-Maliki has said he believes that the continued presence of American forces in Iraq's population centers is partly behind the surge in violence.

Kidnapped soldier

The case of a kidnapped American soldier, meanwhile, took a curious turn when a woman claiming to be his mother-in-law said the soldier was married to her daughter, a Baghdad college student, and was with the young woman and her family when hooded gunmen handcuffed him and threw him into the back seat of a white Mercedes last week. The marriage would violate military regulations.

The soldier's disappearance has prompted a massive manhunt in Baghdad, with much of it focused on Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite slum of 2.5 million people in extreme northeastern Baghdad.

The military still had checkpoints surrounding the district Monday when a suspected Sunni insurgent bomber slipped in and set off the bomb about 6:15 a.m. among day laborers. There were conflicting reports as to whether the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber or a device concealed amid debris by the roadside.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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