A blood-drenched October has passed into a violent early November as a motorcycle rigged with explosives ripped through a crowded Shiite market in Sadr City on Thursday and suspected Sunni insurgent gunmen killed a Shiite dean of Baghdad University.
The attacks showed no signs of abating after at least 1,272 Iraqis were killed in the first full month of autumn and the 43rd month of the U.S. bid to quell violence and build democracy in Iraq, according to an Associated Press count. The figure is a minimum since many deaths go unreported, but the total is higher than any other month since the AP began keeping track in May 2005.
AP statistics also showed nearly twice as many Iraqi security forces died last month as U.S. forces — 194 versus 106. The Interior Ministry said at least 119 Iraqi policemen were killed.
With shootings, bombings and abductions tearing apart Iraq three years after the U.S.-led invasion, the war in Iraq is the top issue for voters before next week's U.S. congressional elections.
The Iraqi president, visiting Paris, said Thursday all American forces could be gone from Iraq within three years.
"Two to three years are needed to build our security forces and say bye-bye to our friends," Jalal Talabani said. The president, a Kurd whose ethnic group owes its relative prosperity and independence in northern Iraq to the U.S. invasion, has repeatedly predicted an earlier departure for American forces than U.S. generals have.
Asked about Talabani's remarks, Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Vician, said: "All parties agree on the desire to hand over control for security to the Iraqis as soon as possible."
Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Jack Reed said their party will attempt to pass legislation to begin bringing some troops home immediately.
"We want to end the open-ended commitment of our troops, and we want to begin, at least by the end of the year, the reduction of American forces," Levin said.
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At least 49 people were killed or found dead throughout Iraq on Thursday, including the seven killed when the motorcycle blew up in a crowded market in Baghdad's Sadr City district. At least 45 people were wounded in that attack, many of them seriously, police said.
It was the first bombing in Sadr City since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the lifting Tuesday of the week-old U.S.-Iraqi army security blockade on the sprawling Shiite slum of 2.5 million people.
Police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said the explosives went off at 4 p.m., usually the busiest time at Mereidi market, one of the neighborhood's most popular commercial centers.
The rigged motorcycle was left in a section of the market that specialized in the sales of secondhand motorbikes and spare parts. Videotape by Associated Press Television News in the aftermath of the bombing showed the mangled skeletons of scores of motorbikes and large pools of blood on the ground.
Gheith Jassim al-Saadi, a 36-year-old laborer, arrived at the scene shortly after the blast. He had planned to go to the market earlier to have two friends repair his motorbike.
"Motorcycles were scattered everywhere, blood was on the ground and crowds of people were looking for their relatives in panic," he said. "I do not know what happened to my two friends."
Mahdi Army militiamen, who control the district, arrived quickly to disperse a crowd of onlookers, fearing a second blast targeting rescuers and police as has repeatedly been the case in past bombings.
The slain university dean, Jassim al-Asadi, a Shiite, was returning home after picking up his son from school and his wife from her teaching job, when gunmen drove alongside and sprayed his car with automatic weapons, police Lt. Ahmed Ibrahim said. Al-Asadi's wife and son also were killed, Ibrahim said.
With his death, at least 155 educators have perished since the war began. The academics apparently were singled out for their relatively high public stature, vulnerability and known views on controversial issues in a climate of deepening Islamic fundamentalism.
The savagery against professionals is robbing Iraq of much of its brain trust. The Health Ministry says at least 250 physicians and health workers have been killed since March 2003 and more than 6,000 doctors have fled the country.
As with most murders in Iraq, al-Asadi's killers were unlikely to be captured, leaving their motive a mystery. But he was slain four days after the assassination of a prominent Sunni academic, matching the pattern of tit-for-tat sectarian revenge killings that have shredded Iraqi society.
Geologist Essam al-Rawi, head of the University Professor's Union and a senior member of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, was gunned down as he left his Baghdad home Monday. The scholars association has links to the Sunni insurgency.
Two Iraqi lawmakers, meanwhile, said the prime minister planned to reshuffle his 39-member Cabinet in a bid to salvage the government's faltering image and deflect criticism that it is ineffective in stopping the sectarian killing, providing services and creating jobs.
"It will cover about a third of the serving ministers, including one with a security brief," Ali al-Adeeb, a lawmaker of al-Maliki's Dawa Party and a close aide to the prime minister, told the AP.
Hassan al-Suneid, another Dawa lawmaker and al-Maliki confidant, said he expects the Cabinet changes within a month. "It will take place after consultations with the political blocs in parliament," he said.
The U.S. military said a Baghdad-based soldier was killed Wednesday in a roadside bombing, a second died Monday in a firefight in the capital and a third died Thursday from an unspecified non-combat incident north of the capital, raising to 2,820 the number of U.S. forces who have died in the war.