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Attacks mar Iraqi religious holiday

Pentagon reports deaths of 5 troops

BAGHDAD -- Militants targeted police recruits and shoppers rounding up last-minute sweets and delicacies yesterday 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 US military announced the deaths of a Marine and four soldiers, raising to 83 the number of American service members killed in October -- the highest monthly toll this year. The pace of US deaths could make October the deadliest month in two years.

Three soldiers were killed yesterday, 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 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 the bloodiest attack yesterday, gunmen in five sedans ambushed a convoy of buses carrying police recruits near the city of Baqubah 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing at least 15 and wounding 25 others, said Major General Ghassan al-Bawi, provincial police chief. The recruits were returning home after an induction ceremony at a police base south of Baqubah.

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 occurred 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 Shi'ite militiamen for the attack in Mahmoudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad. The Sunni organization asserted that Shi'ite militiamen had killed 1,000 residents in the town since the start of the year.

In all yesterday, at least 44 Iraqis were killed or their bodies were founded dumped along roads or in the Tigris River. While the number was not high by the grim standards of the more than 3 1/2 year war, the timing and targets showed a brutal disregard for the sanctity and meaning of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which is to Muslims what Christmas is to Christians.

After fasting from dawn to dusk for a month to become closer to God, the holiday is a time when families and friends gather for sumptuous meals and children are given new clothes and toys. Muslims also traditionally visit the graves of loved ones.

"I don't think my family will go out and visit relatives this holiday," said Hasnah Kadhim, a 54-year-old Shi'ite homemaker and mother of four. "There are too many explosions."

Symbolic, perhaps, of Iraq's deepening sectarian split, only Sunnis are celebrating the start of the Eid holiday today.

The country's majority Shi'ites begin the three-day festival tomorrow or Wednesday, depending on which senior cleric they follow.

"Things are getting worse every day in Baghdad," said Abu Marwa, the Baghdad storekeeper. "So, it's logical that today will be better than tomorrow. That's why I have no plans for the holiday."

The killings yesterday raised to at least 950 the number of Iraqis who have died in war-related violence this month, an average of more than 40 a day. The toll is on course to make October the deadliest month for Iraqis since April 2005, when the Associated Press began tracking the deaths.

Until this month, the daily average had been about 27. The AP count includes civilians, government officials, and police and security forces, and is considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The actual number is probably higher, as many killings go unreported.

The United Nations has said at least 100 Iraqis are killed daily.

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