BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – The death of a Marine announced on Monday took the American death toll in Iraq for October to 100, a week before elections that could cost President George W. Bush’s Republicans control of Congress because of the war.
A string of blasts and car bombs killed more than 40 people in Baghdad alone, including 28 victims of an attack on poor labourers in the Shi’ite militia stronghold of Sadr City.
The U.S. military said the unnamed Marine was killed in combat in western Anbar province on Sunday, bringing the monthly death toll to 100 — the deadliest for U.S. troops in almost two years and the fourth bloodiest since they invaded in March 2003.
U.S. commanders have blamed October’s toll on more attacks during the Muslim Ramadan fast. In September, 71 Americans died.
Opinion polls show growing numbers of U.S. voters want to see the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq starting to come home. Since the invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein, a total of 2,813 U.S. troops have been killed.
Bush’s Republican Party faces possible loss of control of Congress in Nov. 7, with opinion polls showing dismay over his policy on Iraq could be a critical factor in voter intentions.
Following strains between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government and U.S. officials over political and security steps intended to restore stability, Bush sent his national security adviser Stephen Hadley to hold talks with Iraqi government officials, a U.S. embassy spokesman said. He met Maliki, as well as U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie.
Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said his government will ask the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate governing the presence of U.S.-led forces in Iraq for another year.
Maliki’s administration had indicated on taking office six months ago it might seek a new arrangement. “The presence of the multinational force is indispensable for the security and stability of Iraq and of the region at the moment,” Zebari told Reuters in an interview.
“At the same time, the Iraqi government is … willing to take more security responsibilities from these forces to do its part.” The existing U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31 and Zebari said Iraq would request its extension in the next month or so.
Zebari, a Kurdish member of the national unity government, denied any real breach with Washington despite public tension in the past week which raised questions about U.S. policy in Iraq. He also said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem had agreed to visit Baghdad, possibly in November. It would be the first ministerial visit from Iraq’s neighbour and long-time rival in the region since the U.S.-led invasion.
In the bloodiest attack on Monday, a bomb killed 28 people and wounded 60 in a square in the Muslim Shi’ite Sadr City district in eastern Baghdad where labourers were gathering to wait for job offers, Interior Ministry sources said. Five car bombs in different parts of Baghdad killed 13 people.
Sadr City is a stronghold of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who heads the powerful Mehdi Army militia widely blamed for sectarian killings targeting Sunni Arabs.
Al Qaeda and other Sunni militant groups battling U.S. forces and the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, have in the past struck Sadr City. The blast tore through food stalls and shops. Scattered clothes and twisted metal lay amid debris and pools of blood. “They were poor labourers bringing a daily living to their family. Let’s have Maliki hear that,” one witness said.
Sectarian violence kills about 100 people a day, the United Nations says, and political wrangling is hampering reforms.
Maliki and Bush announced at the weekend an agreement to speed up the training of Iraqi forces. Washington is anxious for Maliki, a Shi’ite Islamist, to crack down on Shi’ite militias, whose political leaders underpin his hold on power. Maliki has said the biggest threat comes from Saddam supporters and al Qaeda.
Saddam himself was in court again on Monday, facing a charge of genocide against the Kurds in the 1980s. On Sunday, he is due to hear the verdict and a possible death sentence in a separate trial, for crimes against humanity involving Shi’ites.
The chief prosecutor has said Sunday’s session may be delayed, pushing it till after the U.S. elections. But Zebari said the year-old trial had already “gone on too long” and should wind up. Saddam, 69, could be hanged if convicted but any appeal could drag on amid other trials he may yet face.