Iraqi P.M. Lifts 2 U.S. Military Blockades

Jubilant Iraqis carry poster of radical anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr after US troops dismantled checkpoints around Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City Tuesday Oct. 31 2006. Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday ordered the lifting of joint U.S.-Iraqi military checkpoints around the Shiite militant stronghold of Sadr City and other parts of Baghdad.
Exploiting GOP vulnerability in the Nov. 7 elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flexed his political muscle Tuesday and won U.S. agreement to lift military blockades on Sadr City and another Shiite enclave where an American soldier was abducted.

U.S. forces, who had set up the checkpoints in Baghdad last week as part of an unsuccessful search for the soldier, drove away in Humvees and armored personnel carriers at the 5 p.m. deadline set by al-Maliki.

The American checkpoints disappeared within hours of Malikis order, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan, and along with them, American hopes of stopping their missing soldier being transported out of Baghdad — if he is even still alive.

The U.S forces' departure set off celebrations among civilians and armed men in Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite district controlled by the Mahdi Army militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Small groups of men and children danced in circles chanting slogans praising and declaring victory for al-Sadr, whose political support is crucial to the prime minister's governing coalition.

Prime Minister al-Maliki is desperate to show he's not America's man in Iraq, after what he sees as undue pressure form the United States in recent weeks, reports Logan.

Al-Maliki finds himself in a maze of conflicting political pressures. After the Bush administration unveiled a plan last week for Iraq's government to adopt timelines for progress, especially in curbing violence, al-Maliki accused Washington of infringing on national sovereignty. There was no doubt he was talking tough to show both the Americans and his political base that he would not be pushed around.

The prime minister has further said that he feels stanching bloodshed might be better handled by Iraqi forces, although the argument does not wash given the present state of his military.

Sen. Jack Reed, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said al-Maliki was yielding to sectarian pressure and undermining U.S. efforts to curb attacks. "Today, the critical issue in Iraq is whether the Maliki government can muster the political will to confront those who use violence to destabilize Iraq," Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said in a statement.

Al-Maliki's move Tuesday came three days after his closest aide, Hassan al-Suneid, said unabashedly that the prime minister was trying to capitalize on American voter discontent with the war and White House reluctance to open a public fight with the Iraqi leader just before the midterm election. Much of the discontent is fueled by soaring death tolls among U.S. troops and their inability to contain raging sectarian violence 3 ½ years after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of two soldiers in fighting in the Baghdad area Monday, one from small arms fire, the other from a roadside bomb. The October death toll stood at 103, the fourth highest monthly figure of the war.

More than 40 Iraqis were killed or found dead across the country Tuesday, including 11 Shiites who perished in a suicide car bombing at a wedding on the north side of the capital. Four of those killed at the bride's home were children, and among the 21 wounded were several youngsters with burns over much of their bodies.

In other developments:

  • Prime Minister Tony Blair narrowly avoided a damaging defeat in Parliament on Tuesday as lawmakers rejected a proposal for an immediate inquiry into the role of coalition troops in Iraq. Following their first major debate on the military action since 2003, lawmakers voted 298 votes to 273 against a motion put forward by Welsh and Scottish nationalists, who had demanded a swift examination of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.
  • The families of seven soldiers who died in Iraq or Afghanistan were given incorrect or misleading information about the deaths, the Army has concluded after a review of war casualty reports. The best-known was Pat Tillman, the former pro football player, whose family was initially informed that he was killed unintentionally by gunfire from his fellow soldiers. The issue of inaccurate casualty information resurfaced last summer when Army officials revealed that two California National Guardsmen were murdered in June 2004 by the Iraqi civil-defense soldiers they were training, not in an enemy ambush.
  • CBS News national security David Martin has learned that Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to recommend the size of Iraqi security forces be increased by up to 100,000. This comes just as the U.S. military is about to reach its long-stated goal of training and equipping 325,000 Iraqis to take over the fighting from American troops.
  • President Bush is on the campaign trail, sharpening his rhetoric to fire up the Republican base with a message that tries to make the unpopular war a positive, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante. "Their approach comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses," the president said at one stop Monday. "The Democrat goal is to get out of Iraq. The Republican goal is to win in Iraq."
    (AP Photo/Scott Nelson)
  • A witness at Saddam Hussein's genocide trial has testified that he survived a massacre by feigning death when Iraqi soldiers shot at Kurdish detainees lying at their feet, during the 1988 crackdown on Kurds by Saddam's regime.