BAGHDAD — On a day when the U.S. Secretary of Defense arrived in Iraq to discuss U.S. troop withdrawals and Iraq's halting but real political progress, carnage from car bombs and internal battles around the country claimed at least 45 lives.
Pentagon chief Robert Gates arrived unannounced in the Iraqi capital Sunday evening for talks with Iraqi leaders and U.S. commander, Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, a military spokeswoman confirmed.
A few hours before he landed in Baghdad, a big suicide car bomb exploded near a local market in Yathrib, north of Baghdad in Salahuddin province, killing at least 23 people and injuring 45. The explosion brought down part of the market building and may have trapped shoppers in the rubble, according to police.
Another car bomb exploded near Ramadi, killing three, and further north two car bombs were reported in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city. Both of them targeted Iraqi soldiers and four were killed in one of the explosions, police said.
To the west of Mosul, 21 people were killed in fighting between insurgents and members of the U.S.-funded local awakening council militia. An Iraqi army official said Al Qaida insurgents provoked the battle by killing a family of six in the town of Sinjar, and awakening council members retaliated at the insurgents hideout.
Five awakening members and 10 insurgents died in the early-morning fighting, a U.S. Army spokesman said.
Also Sunday, a court martial convicted Sgt. Evan Vela, of St. Anthony, Idaho, for murdering an Iraqi man who stumbled on the soldier's sniper's hideout last year. Vela was accused of killing the man, planting an AK-47 on him and making false statements to investigators. Vela's defense attorney argued he was too sleep-deprived to grasp what he was doing. Vela was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Two other soldiers had been convicted of planting false evidence but were acquitted of murder charges.
In Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, five members of awakening groups were found dead Saturday. They were thought to have been kidnapped Friday, the same day many groups there began a strike to demand the ouster of Diyala province's police chief, whom they accuse of participating in a death squad.
They have also demanded the arrest of seven police officers they say raped and killed two women last week, assistance in the return of displaced Sunnis to Shiite neighborhoods and the release of prisoners not convicted of a crime or terrorist acts. A mediation meeting was held between various groups Sunday, but it apparently was inconclusive, according to a member of the awakening in Diyala.