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A bloody month for US troops

103 die in Oct.; Baghdad bomb stokes anger

BAGHDAD -- The American death toll for October climbed past 100, a grim milestone as a White House envoy turned up unexpectedly in Baghdad yesterday following a rough patch in US-Iraqi ties. At least 81 people were killed yesterday across Iraq, including 33 in a bombing targeting workers.

Three soldiers were killed in or near Baghdad yesterday: a member of the 89th Military Police Brigade in east Baghdad, a soldier hit by small arms fire during combat in a western district, and a soldier whose vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb just south of the city. Those deaths raised to 103 the number of US service members killed in a bloody October, the deadliest month for Americans in nearly two years. At least 2,816 American forces have died since the war began in March 2003.

According to an Associated Press count, October has also recorded more Iraqi civilian deaths -- 1,170 as of yesterday-- than any other month since the AP began keeping track in May 2005.

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."

Rubaie said Hadley was here to discuss the work of a five-man committee that Maliki and Bush agreed to Saturday.

In the deadliest attack on Iraqis yesterday, an explosion in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood killed at least 33 people, stoking tension between US forces and followers of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia is suspected in the kidnapping of an American soldier.

Residents in Sadr City charged that US forces, who have virtually surrounded the Shi'ite Muslim area for four days, must have allowed the attacker into their community as part of an effort to win the release of the kidnapped soldier. US officials rejected the accusation.

The explosion struck just before 8 a.m. in an area popular with day laborers looking for work. Initial reports said the blast came from a bomb hidden under garbage, but a spokesman for the Interior Ministry later said a car bomb was responsible. At least 60 people were wounded.

Many of the dead and wounded were buying breakfast from a woman selling tea and cheese, said Fa'ez Thani, 36, who was about 100 yards away. Thani sprinted to the smoking crater debris. Hours later, his voice still trembled.

"I found a real massacre -- legs, hands, and heads scattered everywhere," he said. "I and my friends were carrying the bodies not knowing who was alive and who was dead."

Anger had already been rising in the sprawling Shi'ite district of more than 2 million, a stronghold for Sadr and his militia. Residents have had to wait hours to pass through troop checkpoints to and from the neighborhood.

Adding to the anger were raids on at least nine offices of Sadr's political wing -- apparently part of the search for the missing soldier -- and a raid last Wednesday by Iraqi and US forces seeking a Shi'ite death-squad leader. That raid left at least 10 people dead and sparked criticism from Maliki, whose refusal to disarm Sadr's militia has rankled US officials.

After yesterday's bombing, hundreds of people milled in the streets around the carnage. Some carried rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

A spokesman for Sadr's political wing pledged there would be no violence, however.

"The Sadrists are committed to what Sadr told them, and he ordered them to stay quiet," said Sheik Naser al-Sa'edi.

There were at least five other car bombs in Baghdad yesterday, killing 13 civilians and wounding 43, according to police. Another car bomb just north of the capital killed two more and injured three.

At least 15 bodies were recovered in southern Baghdad -- all bore signs of torture -- and a top Sunni politician, Issam Rawi, was assassinated near his home.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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