BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday ordered the lifting of joint U.S.-Iraqi military checkpoints around the Shiite militant stronghold of Sadr City — another apparent move to assert his authority with the Americans and appeal to his Shiite support base.
All barricades and checkpoints around Sadr City and elsewhere in Baghdad must be lifted by 5 p.m., al-Maliki said in an order issued in his capacity both as prime minister and commander of the Iraqi armed forces.
“These measures should not be taken except during nighttime curfew hours and emergencies,” the order said.
“Joint efforts continue to pursue terrorists and outlaws who expose the lives of citizens to killings, abductions and explosions,” it said.
The extra checkpoints were set up last week as U.S. troops launched an intensive search for a missing soldier and raided homes in search of death squad leaders who shelter in the sprawling slum that is home to an overwhelmingly Shiite population of 2.5 million people.
A car bomb killed three people and wounded five others in the Sadr City section early Tuesday, a day after a bombing killed at least 33 people in the overwhelmingly Shiite neighborhood.
The U.S. military announced the deaths of two soldiers, raising the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq fighting this month to 103.
The latest bomb struck at about 8:30 a.m., killing two men and a woman driving past a local restaurant, police Lt. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said.
The bombings have taken place despite the presence of U.S. and Iraqi military checkpoints surrounding the district, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
In a statement addressed to local supporters on Monday, al-Sadr warned of unspecified action if the military’s “siege” continues. He also criticized what he called the silence of politicians over actions by the U.S. military in the district on Baghdad’s northeastern edge, which is home to about 2.5 million people.
“If this siege continues for long, we will resort to actions which I will have no choice but to take, God willing, and when the time is right,” he said in the statement, a text of which was obtained by the AP.
U.S. and Iraqi troops set up new checkpoints at entrances to the neighborhood last week as they searched for a missing U.S. Army translator, and attempted to capture a suspected death squad leader blamed in the deaths of scores of rival Sunnis.
October has been especially deadly for U.S. troops, with the military reporting on Tuesday the deaths of two soldiers in fighting around the capital.
One Baghdad-based soldier was killed at about 5:00 p.m. on Monday after being hit by small arms fire in a western district of the capital. A second Baghdad-based soldier was killed at around 5:30 p.m. when the vehicle he was riding in was struck by a roadside bomb just south of Baghdad, the military said in a brief statement.
The names of the soldiers were being withheld pending notification of their families.
October has been the fourth deadliest month for American troops since the war began in March 2003. The other highest monthly death tolls were 107 in January 2005; at least 135 in April 2004, and 137 in November 2004.
Iraqi security forces continued to suffer losses, with one policeman killed and three injured Tuesday morning when a roadside bomb struck their patrol in the capital’s southeastern New Baghdad neighborhood, police Lt. Mohammed Kheyoun said.
A second officer, police commando unit commander Ali Abdul-Kadhim, was killed by unknown gunmen in a car while standing near his home in eastern Baghdad, police Capt. Mohammed Abdul-Ghani said.
The bodies of five unidentified people, including a woman, were found dumped early Tuesday morning in eastern Baghdad, police Maj. Mahir Hamid Mussa said. Those killed had been tied up and blindfolded, with their bodies showing signs of torture — typically a sign that death squads were responsible, Mussa said.
New violence that followed a lull during last week’s Muslim holy days claimed the lives of at least 81 people across Iraq on Monday.
According to an Associated Press count, October has recorded more Iraqi civilian deaths — 1,170 as of Monday — than any other month since the AP began keeping track in May 2005. The next-highest month was March 2006, when 1,038 Iraqi civilians were killed in the aftermath of the Feb. 22 bombing of an important Shiite shrine in Samarra.