At least 18 people, including an American soldier, were killed following two car bombings in Baghdad. The attacks occurred while Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq to speak with military leaders and U.S. Marines.
The first car bomb exploded early Sunday near Iraq's Oil Ministry and a few-hundred meters from Baghdad's police academy. The powerful explosion killed scores of Iraqis, including seven women.
Fifteen-minutes later, a suicide car bomber blew himself up as a coalition convoy was passing by.
The car bombings occurred as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit to Iraq. The secretary had breakfast with military leaders and then held a meeting with about 15-hundred Marines in an aircraft hangar in al-Asad airfield in Iraq's western desert.
Mr. Rumsfeld told the troops he did not expect there to be any reduction in forces until after Iraqi elections are held in January. He said it was hoped, as Iraqi military forces increase, there would be a reduction in the level of coalition troops in Iraq. But, he also noted he expected violence in the country to increase before the January elections.
The defense secretary's visit followed by one day the announcement that Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadrs Mehdi army, in the impoverished Baghdad suburb of Sadr City, would hand over their medium and heavy weapons in return for amnesty and inclusion in Iraq's political process.
The news was well received by residents of Sadr City, who have experienced weeks of gunfire and precision air attacks, as Mehdi army members fought with Iraqi and American forces.
Forty-three-year-old Iraqi teacher Alaah Adi Awan, who lives in Sadr City, says it is time for the Mehdi army to go away.
Mr. Awan says he does not think the Mehdi army needs to be in Sadr City because, he says, they are not well trained and do not have the experience to control the situation in Sadr City. He says the imposition of law throughout Iraq is important and says no one should be above the law.
Sadr City resident Ahmed Abu Mossin says he is suspicious of the Mehdi army.
Mr. Mossin says he does not think the Mehdi army will hand over all of its weapons because he says they are extremists and they do not trust the Americans. He says if they do leave, it will be good for Sadr City so that people can re-open their stores and feel safe again.
The streets of Sadr City appeared calm as some stores were already re-opening their doors.
As part of the agreement, Mehdi army members will begin handing over their weapons at specified police stations in Sadr City, and will return control of the streets to Iraqi police.
Iraqi interim government officials said they are hopeful other militias in Iraq will follow the lead of the Mehdi army and hand over their weapons, to help clear the way for open elections in January.