U.S. Obeys Order to Abandon Checkpoints

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 31, 2006; 11:35 AM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. troops on Tuesday abandoned checkpoints around the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City on orders from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the latest in a series of moves by the Iraqi leader to assert his authority with the U.S. administration.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of two soldiers in fighting in the Baghdad area on Monday, bringing the number of troops killed in Iraq this month to 103.

More insurgent violence was also reported against civilians, with at least 11 people killed, including four children, and 21 others wounded when a suicide car bomber struck a wedding party in Baghdad.

U.S. forces disappeared from the checkpoints within hours of the order to remove the around-the-clock barriers by 5 p.m., setting off celebrations among civilians and armed men gathered on the edge of the sprawling slum that is under the control of the Mahdi Army militia run by radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Iraqi troops loaded coils of barbed wire and red traffic cones onto pickup trucks, while small groups of men and children danced in circles chanting slogans praising al-Sadr, who earlier Tuesday had ordered the area closed to the Iraqi government until U.S. troops lifted what he called their "siege" of the neighborhood.

Extra checkpoints were set up last week as U.S. troops launched an intensive search for a missing soldier, who has yet to be found.

Shortly after leaving Sadr city, U.S. troops dismantled other checkpoints in the downtown Karradah neighborhood where the soldier had been abducted, loading barbed wire coils onto their Stryker armored vehicles.

Al-Maliki's statement said U.S.-manned checkpoints "should not be taken except during nighttime curfew hours and emergencies."

"Joint efforts continue to pursue terrorists and outlaws who expose the lives of citizens to killings, abductions and explosions," said the statement, issued in al-Maliki's name in his capacity both as prime minister and commander of the Iraqi armed forces.

U.S. troops have increased their presence on Baghdad streets as part of a two-month-old security crackdown. However, they rarely man checkpoints in populated areas where they risk coming under attack or angering residents by conducting vehicle and body searches.

Al-Maliki's order underscored the his government's reliance of Shiite support and sensitivity to their concerns.

Besides al-Sadr, the largest Shiite coalition in the 275-member parliament, the United Iraqi Alliance, had also condemned the checkpoints for inflicting what it described as "collective punishment" against residents of Baghdad's Shiite neighborhoods.

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