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Iraq Transition

Sunni leader dismayed by easing of security in Sadr City

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The easing of a security crackdown in Baghdad's volatile Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City may be emboldening members of Shiite death squads, a Sunni leader said Wednesday.

Tariq al-Hashimi -- a vice president of Iraq -- said at a news conference he thinks the security situation is deteriorating largely because the Shiite-led government isn't doing enough to take on militias.

"Are we sending the wrong message to the terrorists?" al-Hashimi asked, referring to the possibility that Shiite death squads would exploit the opening of selected checkpoints. (Watch spin after warning of slide toward chaos -- 1:32 Video)

"Now that the iron fist has loosened, [terrorists] can move around as you please and shake the stability in Baghdad again. Is this in the country's interest?"

U.S. and Iraqi troops tightened security in Baghdad during a hunt for a missing U.S. soldier believed to have been abducted October 23.

U.S. and Iraqi checkpoints were set up around Baghdad's sprawling Sadr City slum, the Shiite stronghold of the Mehdi Army, followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, on Tuesday ordered the removal of the Sadr City checkpoints, which inconvenienced civilian Iraqis, after al-Sadr called for a general strike and threatened possible violence.

Checkpoints along Army Canal -- which leads into eastern Baghdad, including the Sadr City area -- were opened, and cars and pedestrians were allowed to pass freely. (Watch Sadr City celebrate al-Sadr 'victory' -- 1:50)

Al-Hashimi said militia attacks Tuesday night and Wednesday against Sunni Arabs began soon after the checkpoints were removed.

He said the crackdown in Sadr City should not have been changed by al-Maliki without the agreement of the multiethnic political council for national security, in a process he said was agreed upon before the government was formed.

Al-Hashimi said the security situation generally is deteriorating and security forces are playing a big role in that process.

Pointing to CDs that have been circulating, he said there is evidence showing Iraqi security forces providing militias with weapons and intelligence.

Al-Hashimi called for a purge of the security forces, to replace people who have political or sectarian allegiances with professionals.

Sports figures kidnapped

Meanwhile, the violence that has become a daily ordeal for Iraqis continued Wednesday, with police reporting the kidnapping of a top basketball official, a volleyball coach and a police officer.

Bombs, mortars and shootings throughout Baghdad also killed at least 11 people and wounded more than 20, police said. The dead included at least three police officers.

Separately, police recovered 35 bodies across the capital, some with gunshots to the head and signs of torture.

Gunmen in at least four SUV vehicles abducted Issam Khalaf Zwayer, the secretary-general of Iraq's national basketball federation.

They also abducted Khalid Najim al-Deen -- the coach of a volleyball team for disabled Iraqis -- from the Palestine youth club on Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad.

The two were kidnapped at the Palestine youth club and were the latest abductions in a string aimed at sports figures.

Elsewhere, Col. Khalid Ibrahim, a police officer working at Risafa police headquarters, was kidnapped by gunmen in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Sleikh.

Three U.S. troops killed

The U.S. military reported three American troop deaths on Wednesday, raising the number killed during the Iraq war to 2,812. Seven civilian contractors for the military have also been killed.

A U.S. soldier assigned to the Multi-National Division - Baghdad died Wednesday when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle, the U.S. military said. And two U.S. troops died Tuesday in Anbar province, one in combat and another in a nonhostile incident.

The soldier killed in combat Tuesday was assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7; the other who died was a Marine with the Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 11.

The deaths raised the number of U.S. troops killed in October to 105, the fourth-highest monthly total since the war began.

Coalition says it hits bomb-making facility

South of Baghdad, coalition forces launched an airstrike early Wednesday on a bomb-making facility, an attack described by the U.S. military as part of the effort "to dismantle the al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist network."

"According to ground forces, there was explosive paraphernalia along with an estimated 70 to 80 barrels of unknown chemicals in the factory," a military statement said.

In Balad, north of Baghdad, a suspected terrorist was killed and another detained Tuesday in a coalition raid, the U.S. military said.

The raid targeted a person linked to a "suspected senior leader of an al Qaeda in Iraq network" known for connections to "foreign terrorists and IED attacks in the area," the military said.

Search continues for missing soldier

U.S. troops continued to scour Baghdad on Wednesday in search of the missing soldier, a U.S. military spokesman said.

Troops were still using tough security measures, including cordon and search operations, checkpoints, and raids.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington emphasized that operations to rescue the soldier are aggressive and said, "We're serious about bringing this soldier home."

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh, Erin McLaughlin, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Michael Ware contributed to this report.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


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