Monday, October 30, 2006

BAGHDAD — National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley huddled with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his security chief, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, during an unannounced visit to Baghdad, telling them he “wanted to reinforce some of the things you have heard from our president.”

Mr. al-Rubaie said last night that Mr. Hadley had discussed the work of a five-man committee that Mr. al-Maliki and Mr. Bush agreed to set up during a telephone conversation on Saturday. Mr. Hadley also presented proposals concerning the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces as well as security plans.

“It was a useful visit,” Mr. al-Rubaie said, but he refused to give any details, saying only that Mr. Hadley’s meetings were limited to Mr. al-Rubaie and Mr. al-Maliki.

The meetings came as the American death toll for October rose past 100. A member of the 89th Military Police Brigade was killed in east Baghdad yesterday, and a Marine died in fighting in insurgent-plagued Anbar province the previous day, raising to 101 the number of U.S. service members killed in October, the fourth-deadliest month of the war.

At least 81 other persons were killed across Iraq, including 33 who died when a suspected Sunni insurgent bomber detonated his device among a group of day laborers in Sadr City. The blast tore through food stalls and kiosks shortly after 6 a.m. The blast wounded 59.

According to an Associated Press count, October has produced more Iraqi civilian deaths — 1,170 so far — than any other month since the AP began keeping track in May 2005.

The White House said Mr. Hadley was not on a mission to repair ragged relations, accounts of which it said had been “overblown” by the press.

“Absolutely not,” said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council in Washington. “This is a long-planned trip to get a firsthand report of the situation on the ground from the political, economic and security fronts.”

Last week Mr. al-Maliki issued a string of bitter complaints — at one point saying he wasn’t “America’s man in Iraq” — after U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad announced adjustments in America’s Iraq strategy.

The ambassador announced that the prime minister agreed to implement a set of timelines, prompting Mr. al-Maliki to accuse the White House of infringing on his government’s sovereignty and say that he was not consulted.

By week’s end, Mr. al-Maliki and President Bush held a hastily convened video conference call and agreed to speed the training of Iraqi forces and the return of control over all territory to the Iraqi army.

The case of a kidnapped American soldier, meanwhile, took a curious turn when a woman claiming to be his mother-in-law said the soldier was married to her daughter, a Baghdad college student.

She said the soldier was with the young woman and her family when hooded gunmen handcuffed him and threw him in the back seat of a white Mercedes last week. The marriage would violate U.S. military regulations.

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