Ramadan celebration plagued by Iraqi deaths

By The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Militants targeted police recruits and shoppers rounding up last-minute sweets and delicacies Sunday for a feast to mark the end of the Ramadan holy month, the highlight of the Muslim year. At least 44 Iraqis were reported killed across the country.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of a Marine and four soldiers, raising to 83 the number of American servicemembers killed in October – the highest monthly toll this year. The pace of U.S. deaths could make October the deadliest month in two years.

Three soldiers were killed Sunday, two by small arms fire west of the capital and one by a roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad, the military said. On Saturday, a Marine was killed during combat in the restive Anbar province and another soldier died in fighting in Salahuddin province.

“There will be no holiday in Iraq,” said Abu Marwa, a 46-year-old Sunni Muslim father of three who owns a mobile phone shop in the capital. “Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.”

In Sunday’s bloodiest attack, gunmen in five sedans ambushed a convoy of buses carrying police recruits near the city of Baqouba 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing at least 15 and wounding 25 others, said provincial police chief Maj. Gen. Ghassan al-Bawi. The recruits were returning home after an induction ceremony at a police base south of Baqouba.

A series of bombs also ripped through a Baghdad market and bakery packed with holiday shoppers, killing at least nine people and injuring dozens, police said. The attack came a day after a massive bicycle-bomb and mortar attack on an outdoor market killed 19 and wounded scores in Mahmoudiyah, just south of the capital.

The Iraqi Islamic Party issued a statement blaming Shiite militiamen for the attack in Mahmoudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad. The Sunni organization claimed Shiite militiamen had killed 1,000 residents in the town since the start of the year.

The Bush administration has been wrestling to find new tactics to contain the bloodshed ahead of the U.S. midterm elections as lawmakers from both parties expressed wavering confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ability to come to grips with the rising bloodshed.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that pressuring al-Maliki may not work because he does not have much clout.

“We keep saying, ‘Go to your Shiites and get them straightened out, or the Sunnis, or divide the oil.’ And al-Maliki is saying, ‘There isn’t any group here that wants to talk about those things,'” Lugar said.

Bush stood firm in his support for al-Maliki, saying he “has got what it takes to lead a unity government.” But the president noted the urgency the new government faces to stop the killing.

“I’m patient. I’m not patient forever, and I’m not patient with dawdling,” Bush said. “But I recognize the degree of difficulty of the task, and therefore, say to the American people, we won’t cut and run.”

The outcome of a White House meeting Saturday among Bush and his top security and military officials could become clearer early next week when Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and Gen. George Casey, top U.S. commander in Iraq, are scheduled to conduct a joint news conference in Baghdad.