BAGHDAD, Iraq – Gunmen seized two Sunni coaches from a youth club Wednesday in Baghdad, while authorities searched for dozens of Shiites abducted along a dangerous highway north of the capital in another outbreak of Iraq's relentless tit-for-tat sectarian violence.
The U.S. military also reported the deaths of a soldier in fighting Tuesday in volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad, and a Marine killed in a non-combat related incident, raising to 105 the number of American service members killed in October — the fourth deadliest month since the war began.
Meanwhile, frustration over poor turnout in Iraq's parliament flared, with the body's speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani having to be physically restrained from attacking a fellow Sunni lawmaker.
Armed men driving four SUVs drove up to a youth club on Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad and seized Khalid Nejim, the basketball federation chief who also was a coach for the national basketball team, and Issam Khalef, who coached blind athletes.
It was the latest in wave of kidnappings targeting sports figures who have found themselves caught up in spiraling violence carried out by Shiite militias as well as Sunni-led insurgents.
The assault came a day after some 40 Shiites were seized near the town of Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad, as armed gunmen stood nearby, just out of sight of U.S. soldiers who were disarming a roadside bomb nearby, witnesses and police said.
Unarmed men checked identification cards and seemed to be looking for familiar faces among travelers stopped in heavy traffic, said the witness, who asked to be identified only by the pseudonym Abu Omar for fear of reprisals.
He said he and other Sunni travelers were allowed to travel onward after showing their ID cards.
At least 40 travelers were missing and feared abducted, according to the Joint Cooperation Center in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad.
The Iraqi parliament speaker had been holding a news conference when he lashed out at a lawmaker from a rival Sunni bloc, Abdel-Karim al-Samaraie, for alleged corruption and failure to attend sessions, calling him a "dog" — a deep insult in Iraq and other Arab societies.
Al-Samaraie, a member of the main Sunni parliamentary bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, responded by calling al-Mashhadani a false patriot. The speaker then lunged at al-Samaraie, but was held back by bodyguards.
Al-Mashhadani had been angered by low attendance among Iraqi Accordance Front lawmakers that prevented the body from making the quorum of 138 of the 275 lawmakers. He complained that lawmakers who failed to show up were delaying the ratification of a series of edicts reached by Shiite and Sunni religious figures in the holy city of Mecca last month that aims to stop sectarian bloodshed.
The number killed in a suicide bomb attack on a Shiite wedding in Baghdad on Tuesday rose overnight to 23, including nine children. Another 19 were still hospitalized.
The attack, in which a bomber drove an explosives-rigged car into a crowd outside the bride's home, resembled recent killings aimed at sparking Shiite retaliation and pushing Iraq toward all-out civil war.
Police said U.S. and Iraqi forces on Tuesday night stormed an office in the southwestern hamlet of Ahrar belonging to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's organization, a sponsor of the feared Mahdi Army militia linked to sectarian murders and other violence.
The troops, using U.S. air cover, arrested five al-Sadr followers, police Lt. Mohammed al-Shammari said, but no casualties were reported. The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the report.
The raid came a day after U.S. forces dismantled road blocks around the Mahdi Army's Baghdad stronghold, the Sadr City neighborhood, following an order from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It was the latest in a series of challenges to the U.S. designed to test Washington's readiness to give him a greater say in securing the world's most violent capital.
Aides to the prime minister say he hopes to expand his authority by exploiting the pressure on President Bush over rising voter dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war and the rising U.S. death toll.
The U.S. military said an American soldier was killed in fighting and a Marine died in a separate non-combat incident Tuesday in Anbar province, a key insurgent stronghold. There have been only three months in which more U.S. forces died in Iraq: 107 in January 2005; at least 135 in April 2004, and 137 in November 2004.
U.S. demands for a crackdown on militias have been a sticking point in relations with al-Maliki, whose coalition government is heavily dependent on al-Sadr's political support.
Other members of al-Maliki's brittle ruling coalition criticized the lifting of the Sadr City checkpoints, saying the prime minister should have consulted other government leaders about it first.
"Sieges all over Iraq should be lifted, not just the one on Sadr City," said the Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who has threatened to resign if al-Maliki did not move swiftly to eradicate militia groups. "I am against all forms of collective punishment against Iraqis by the foreign forces."
The Iraqi government also said it has made progress in expanding diplomatic ties, saying eight countries — South Korea, Ukraine, Denmark, Slovakia, Serbia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Nigeria — had agreed to open Iraqi embassies in their capitals.
Guards at the Khanaqin-Zalo border crossing also seized 52 anti-tank mines that smugglers were attempting to bring in from Iran early Wednesday, according to the Diyala police.
At least 23 violent deaths were reported by police nationwide, including four people who died in three bombings targeting a police patrol, a busy Tigris River bridge and a central market in Baghdad. The attacks also left 23 people wounded.
In other violence:
— A police officer riding his motorcycle home was killed in a drive-by shooting in central Baghdad, and a clerk with the Ministry of Industry was shot to death elsewhere in the city.
— Four people, including a police officer and a police receptionist, were shot to death in separate attacks in Mosul. Police also discovered the charred body of an apparent murder victim in the northern city.
— Two people were killed in Baqouba and Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.
— Sunni cleric Sheikh Yasin al-Kubaisi and his son Ahmed were killed during clashes between police and armed fuel smugglers in the southern border town of Safwan.
— The bullet-riddled bodies of three people who had been blindfolded and bound at the wrists were found dumped in eastern Baghdad, and five more bodies were pulled from the Tigris River near Suwayrah, 25 miles south of the capital.
Elsewhere, a member of the Transportation Ministry protection force was kidnapped while visiting relatives in Rahsad, 150 miles north of Baghdad. Gunmen also abducted a teacher from his classroom at the Rasool Intermediate School in Amarah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, the school's headmaster, Ahmed Naeem said.