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October Already Deadliest Month Of '06

Bombs ripped through crowds of shoppers stocking up on sweets and other delicacies ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, killing at least five people, police said Sunday.

The carnage in the Shurja wholesale market, Baghdad's oldest and largest, marked the second time in as many days that open-air bazaars have been targeted, the latest attacks in a surge of violence over the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which ends on Sunday for Sunnis.

The death toll in Saturday's bomb and mortar attack on a market in Mahmoudiyah, just south of the capital, rose to 19 on Sunday, with scores injured, said Lt. Mohammed Khayun, a police spokesman.

American officials said the Bush administration will present Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, with a timetable aimed at giving Iraq's military greater control of its security, the New York Times reports. Specific milestones, such as disarming sectarian militias, would be included in the timetable, the officials said.

So far this month, an average of about 43 Iraqis have been killed each day, according to an Associated Press count. That compares to an average daily death toll of about 27 since April 2005. The AP count includes civilians, government officials and police and security forces, and is considered a minimum based on AP reporting.

The actual number is likely higher, with many killings left unreported. The United Nations estimates about 100 Iraqi civilians are killed each day.

Alongside the soaring death toll among Iraqis, 79 U.S. troops have died this month, surpassing the year's previous monthly high of 76 in April. With more than a week left in the month, October is on course to be the deadliest month for American service members in two years, a development U.S. officials blame partly on the increased vulnerability of American forces during a major two-month security sweep in Baghdad.

The U.S. military said the latest victim is a Marine who was killed in fighting in Anbar province west of Baghdad. The Marine died yesterday from his wounds.

In other developments:

  • Iraq's Defense Ministry is warning citizens to beware of insurgents disguised as soldiers. Officials say militants wearing army uniforms are telling Baghdad residents to report suspicious activity. The insurgents have handed out cards with mobile phone numbers printed on them. The Defense Ministry thinks it's an effort to identify and target informants.
  • CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan reports that some troops are frustrated by the constraints they're facing while trying to stop the violence: "The military aren't able to operate freely at all. They are completely restricted and limited by the politics. For example they can't act against certain militias or certain high-value targets because of their connections inside the government and unless the Iraqi government gives them permission."
  • At least 15 people were killed in other violence around Iraq, including nine dead in clashes between rival Shiite and Sunni tribes south of the capital. The bullet-riddled bodies of two men were found dumped in Baghdad's Baladiate neighborhood, police Capt. Mohamed Abdul-Ghani said. The men had been bound and blindfolded and showed signs of torture, making them the likely victims of sectarian death squads.
  • Fierce clashes broke out Saturday night between the Shiite Kufeifan tribe and their Sunni Juheishat rivals in Shujeiriya, south of Baghdad, said police spokesman Mohammed al-Shamari.
  • A member of former dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath party, Ali Hussein Sultan al-Zargan, was shot while standing outside his home in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, at 9:00 a.m (0600 GMT), police Lt. Othman al-Lami said.

    Meanwhile, U.S. officials sought to play-down an unusually candid assessment of the security situation made by a senior U.S. State Department official in an interview Saturday with Al-Jazeera television, a pan-Arab satellite channel. Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said the U.S. had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq, but added that Washington was ready to talk with any Iraqi group except al Qaeda in Iraq to facilitate national reconciliation.

    State department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Fernandez afterward said he didn't think reports of his comments were an "accurate reflection of what he said." Asked whether the Bush administration believed that history will show a record of arrogance or stupidity in Iraq, McCormack replied "No."

    A senior Bush administration official questioned whether the remarks had been translated correctly.

    "Those comments obviously don't reflect our position," said the official, who asked not to be identified because a transcript was not then available for review.

    President George W. Bush reviewed Iraq strategy with top war commanders and national security advisers on Friday and Saturday, but indicated little inclination for major changes to an increasingly divisive policy.

    "Our goal in Iraq is clear and unchanging: Our goal is victory," Bush said in his weekly radio address Saturday. "What is changing are the tactics we use to achieve that goal."

    White House is under heavy bipartisan, pre-election pressure for a significant re-examination of the president's war plan.

    Ahead of the traditional Eid al-Fitr feasting, Baghdad's Shurja market was especially packed with families shopping for food, clothing and household items among a warren of warehouses, stalls and shops.

    Three people were killed and eight others injured in an initial bombing, while a second explosion half an hour late injured six more, police Lt. Ali Abbas said.

    Another bomb hidden beneath a car killed two people and injured 10 others lined up outside the al-Farasha pastry and sweet shop in Baghdad's eastern New Baghdad neighborhood at 11:45 a.m. (0845 GMT), police Capt. Mohammed Abdul-Ghani said. About five minutes later, a mortar round crashed into a restaurant about 200 meters away, injuring two civilians and causing extensive damage to the eatery and nearby shops, Abdul-Ghani said.

    As in those attacks, the assailants behind Saturday's bombing and mortar assault in Mahmoudiyah set off initial explosions to cause damage and draw crowds of rescuers and onlookers. A secondary attack was then timed to cause additional carnage.

    Mahmoudiyah, a primarily Shiite Muslim city surrounded by rival Sunni communities, was the scene in July of one of the worst assaults on civilians in recent months when suspected Sunni gunmen sprayed grenades and automatic weapons fire in a market, killing at least 50 people, mostly Shiites.

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