Blast at Baghdad Market Leaves 7 Dead, 45 Wounded

Explosives strapped to a motorcycle went off Thursday in a crowded market in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City neighborhood, killing at least seven people and wounding 45, police said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military confirmed Thursday that a kidnapped soldier was an Iraqi-American man who was married to an Iraqi woman.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell identified the soldier as Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, a 41-year-old reserve linguist, and said there was "an ongoing dialogue" in a bid to win his release. Caldwell would not say with whom or at what level the negotiations were being conducted.

Al-Taayie was visiting his Iraqi wife at a home in Baghdad's Karadah district when he was handcuffed and taken away by gunmen, Caldwell said.

The soldier's name had been widely published after a woman claiming to be his mother-in-law told the story of the interpreter's secret marriage three months ago and his abduction on Oct. 23.

Caldwell, however, said that the soldier and his wife were married in February 2005 and he didn't arrive in Baghdad until November 2005.

"So he has every right, of course, as an American soldier to marry whomever he wants. ... At the time he was abducted, his wife was in country here, in Baghdad," he said.

The U.S. military also said that it had killed an Al Qaeda in Iraq commander and his driver in a precision air strike in Ramadi.

In a brief statement, the U.S. military said Rafa al-Ithawi, also known as Abu Taha, was killed on Wednesday in a laser-guided attack on his vehicle.

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The U.S. military said al-Ithawi had been named an Al Qaeda in Iraq emir, giving him the rank of local level commander in Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni insurgency that has stubbornly battled U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies.

The military said al-Ithawi frequently provided haven for foreign militants who come to Iraq to carry out attacks on civilians and U.S. coalition forces.

"This and other recent operations in the region highlight the deliberate, methodical dismantlement of the Al Qaeda in Iraq network and those who contribute to its illegal actions," the statement said.

The Sadr City blast happened around 4 p.m. local time, usually the busiest time at the popular Mereidi market, police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said. The rigged motorcycle was apparently left in a section for used motorbikes and spare parts.

The bombing in Shiite neighborhood was the first since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the lifting Tuesday of a weeklong security blockade on the district that disrupted the life of its 2.5 million Shiite residents.

The blockade was enforced by U.S. and Iraqi troops searching for an American soldier kidnapped by suspected Mahdi Army militiamen Oct. 23.

Sadr City is a stronghold of the militia, which is loyal to radical anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Mahdi Army militiamen arrived at the scene of the bombing, dispersing a crowd of onlookers for fear of a second blast targeting rescuers and police as has repeatedly been the case in past bombings.

In other violence across Iraq, bombings and shootings killed at least eight people, including the Shiite dean of Baghdad University's school of administration and economics, who was killed along with his wife and son four days after the murder of a prominent Sunni academic.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on a trip to France that it would take his country two or three years to set up its own security forces and send U.S.-led troops home.

"Two to three years are needed to build our security forces and say goodbye to our friends," Talabani said at a conference in Paris during a six-day visit that was to include talks with President Jacques Chirac later Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.