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Deadly Baghdad Bombing Punctuates Security Push

An Iraqi police officer guards a convoy of U.S. military vehicles moving into Baghdad's Sadr City on Monday.
An Iraqi police officer guards a convoy of U.S. military vehicles moving into Baghdad's Sadr City on Monday.

U.S. troops in Iraq are starting a difficult phase of their three-week-old security crackdown. More than 600 American soldiers, joined by 600 Iraqi police and troops, are entering the impoverished Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City.

In the past, such a show of force would have drawn fierce resistance by the large Shiite militia loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

But so far, Sadr City has greeted the advance with calm.


That's not surprising, given key figures of the militia went into hiding weeks ago. The militia's de-facto leader — Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — is also laying low.

Nevertheless, officials hope the military presence in the Shiite enclave will end Sunni complaints that Americans are singling out their neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, a car bomb went off Monday, killing at least 26 people in a blast that touched off raging fires and a blizzard of bloodstained paper from a popular book market.

It was the largest bombing in the capital in three days, though there have been sporadic car bombs in the interim.

"Papers from the book market were floating through the air like leaflets dropped from a plane," said Naeem al-Daraji, a Health Ministry worker who was driving about 200 yards from the blast and was slightly injured by broken glass from his car window.


"Pieces of flesh and the remains of books were scattered everywhere," he said.

People began driving the injured to hospitals in private cars without waiting for ambulances to arrive.

Back in Sadr City, Americans and Iraqis are expected to open a Joint Security Station on the edge of the neighborhood Monday.

It's one of 30 bases to be established to improve ties with local leaders and increasing battlefield intelligence.

Sadr City residents reached by telephone say they hope the U.S. presence will restore calm and speed up reconstruction in their neglected neighborhood.

That's also what the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki wants. The future of his Shiite-dominated government, which is aligned with al Sadr, hinges on stopping bombings and sectarian death squads.

Al-Sadr's followers warned al-Maliki they would not relinquish Cabinet posts unless other members of the ruling coalition do the same — setting the stage for a major political battle as the prime minister prepares to reshuffle his administration.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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