Wednesday, November 1, 2006

12:42 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Bombs struck a police patrol, a market and a bridge in Baghdad today as violence across Iraq left more than 20 people dead and police searched for dozens of Shi’ites abducted by suspected Sunni gunmen along a dangerous highway north of the capital.

The U.S. military also reported the death of a soldier in fighting yesterday in volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad, raising to 104 the number of American service members killed in combat in October — the fourth deadliest month since the war began.

Meanwhile, frustration over poor turnout in Iraq’s parliament flared, with the body’s speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, having to be physically restrained from attacking a fellow Sunni lawmaker.

The Shi’ites were seized yesterday near the town of Tarmiyah as armed gunmen stood nearby, just out of sight of U.S. soldiers who were disarming a roadside bomb nearby, a witness said.

It was the latest outbreak of sectarian violence in a region where scores were killed last month in reprisal killings among formerly friendly Shi’ite and Sunni neighbors in the city of Balad.

Unarmed men checked identification cards and seemed to be looking for familiar faces among travelers stopped in heavy traffic, said the witness, who asked to be identified only by the pseudonym Abu Omar for fear of reprisals.

He said he and other Sunni travelers were allowed to travel onward after showing their ID cards.

At least 40 travelers were missing and feared abducted, according to the Joint Cooperation Center in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad.

The Iraqi parliament speaker had been holding a news conference when he lashed out at a lawmaker from a rival Sunni bloc, Abdel-Karim al-Samaraie, accusing him of corruption and failure to attend sessions, calling him a “dog” — a deep insult in Iraq and other Arab societies.

Mr al-Samaraie, a member of the main Sunni parliamentary bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, responded by calling Mr. al-Mashhadani a false patriot. The speaker then lunged at Mr. al-Samaraie but was held back by bodyguards.

Mr. al-Mashhadani had been angered by low attendance among Iraqi Accordance Front lawmakers that prevented the body from making the quorum of 138 of the 275 lawmakers. He complained that lawmakers who failed to show up were delaying the ratification of a series of edicts reached by Shi’ite and Sunni religious figures in the holy city of Mecca last month that aims to stop sectarian bloodshed.

The number killed in a suicide bomb attack on a Shi’ite wedding in Baghdad yesterday rose overnight to 23, including nine children. Another 19 were still hospitalized.

The attack, in which a bomber drove an explosives-rigged car into a crowd outside the bride’s home, resembled recent killings aimed at sparking Shi’ite retaliation and pushing Iraq toward all-out civil war.

Police said U.S. and Iraqi forces last night stormed an office in the southwestern hamlet of Ahrar belonging to radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s organization, a sponsor of the feared Mahdi Army militia linked to sectarian murders and other violence.

The troops, using U.S. air cover, arrested five al-Sadr followers, police Lt. Mohammed al-Shammari said, but no casualties were reported. The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the report.

The raid came a day after U.S. forces dismantled roadblocks around the Mahdi army’s Baghdad stronghold, the Sadr City neighborhood, following an order from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It was the latest in a series of challenges to the U.S. designed to test Washington’s readiness to give him a greater say in securing the world’s most violent capital.

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