U.S. Searches Sadr City Area for Missing Soldier

Residents of Sadr City, a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, complain they are under siege. The U.S. military has installed roadblocks in the area as part of their search for a missing U.S. Soldier.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

In Baghdad, a bomb ripped through the Shiite's slum of Sadr City today, killing more than two dozen people. The bomb struck a lineup of men seeking work. In Sadr City and elsewhere in the Iraqi capital the U.S. military has cut off some areas in search of a soldier who went missing a week ago.

In some places the roadblocks have caused huge traffic jams and long waits. Residents of Sadr City are calling it a siege.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

JAMIE TARABAY: Arab television today broadcast images of Sadr City residents demonstrating against the roadblocks cutting off their area. Haidar(ph) is a taxi driver with nowhere to go. For the past few days he's been out of work. But even if he could get a customer, they'd be stuck waiting in line for hours on end. Reached by phone, he says everyone he knows is staying at home.

HAIDAR (Sadr City Resident): (Through translator) All the roads have been sealed off, even the vehicles transporting vegetables into Sadr City can't get inside.

TARABAY: Sadr City is one of the main focus points in the search for the missing soldier, an American of Iraqi descent who worked as a translator for a reconstruction team. After raising the alarm on of his disappearance last Monday, U.S. troops carried out raids inside Sadr city, entering a mosque and arresting three people.

There's speculation he was taken by militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. On Friday, U.S. and Iraqi forces entered a building belonging to Sadr's political office. In a statement, the U.S. military said it was acting on actionable intelligence indicating the soldier was being held inside.

But a Sadr aide who goes by the name of Abu Mushtaba(ph) says the entire search operation is a ruse to break Sadr's militia.

Mr. ABU MUSHTABA (Aide to Moqtada Al-Sadr): (Through translator) It is all a movie. What they claim can only believed by naïve people. Someone was kidnapped. And we know when this happens, the kidnappers would ask for a ransom, some political demand, or would want to exchange him terrorists. We know the real reason here.

TARABAY: Sadr's militia is believed to be behind many of the sectarian killings reported everyday in Baghdad. U.S. troops recently launched a raid in Sadr City targeting a disputed death squad leader. But some Sadr supporters say such people are acting on their own, beyond Sadr's control.

Yesterday, a source in Sadr's Najaf office said they'd received a list of names from the Iraqi government of Sadr militiaman allegedly responsible for sectarian killings, kidnappings and forcing Sunnis out of Shiite neighborhoods.

They said they'd deal with the matter internally. Sadr aide Abu Mushtaba says closing off an entire population to strike at Sadr's militia will only make things worse.

Mr. MUSHTABA: (Through translator) Right now, everyone feels the same. Even if there are Sadr people here, if you're sealed in an area and you can't go to work, all the roads are closed, you're cut off is going to have the opposite effect. People are sick and tired. There's no electricity or water. They blame the government, the occupation and any other group that is part of this situation.

TARABAY: The lack of water and electricity aren't the only problems facing Sadr City residents. Housewife Oum Jallal(ph) says the local prices of vegetables have doubled because supply is down and vegetable trucks can't get in.

Ms. OUM JALLAL (Resident, Sadr City): (Through Translator) We suffer a lot. We suffer much more than we did at the beginning of the invasion. It has become difficult to get a loaf of bread. We can't bake our own bread because we can't afford the price of gas.

TARABAY: At least two million people have been affected by the ongoing road closures and operations. When asked whether any of the restrictions will be lifted anytime soon, a U.S. military spokesman said, quote, "the military is not trying to inconvenience anyone but will continue to conduct operations to find the missing soldier."

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

(Soundbite of music)

YDSTIE: This is NPR News.

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