Ewen MacAskill

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley in Baghdad.

THIRTY-THREE PEOPLE, most of them labourers queuing in hope of a day's work, were killed in a bomb explosion in Baghdad's Sadr City on Monday as the U.S. tried to patch up differences with the Iraqi Government. The attack, almost certainly sectarian, was the deadliest in the almost exclusively Shia neighbourhood since September 23.

The casualties lifted the daily Iraqi death toll to more than 80. Among the dead was Essam al-Rawi, head of the professors' union, who was gunned down as he was leaving home, the latest in a long line of academics targeted.

The U.S. military said the monthly U.S. death toll had risen to 100, the fourth highest since the 2003 invasion.

Stephen Hadley, the U.S. National Security Adviser, flew into Baghdad on Monday, apparently to patch up differences with the Iraqi Government.

The U.S., seeking an exit strategy from Iraq, has been pressing Premier Nuri al-Maliki to crack down on Shia militia involved in sectarian killings. But Mr. Maliki, whose coalition includes militia representatives, has so far refused to take action and has been openly critical of the U.S. over the last few weeks.

Although a National Security Council spokesman in Washington categorically denied the visit was about mending fences, Mr. Hadley and Mr. Maliki discussed a joint commission set up at the weekend to coordinate U.S.-Iraqi relations.

The U.S. and Britain had hoped the creation of the first democratically elected government earlier this year, with representatives from the Sunni community as well as Shias and Kurds, would lead to a reduction in violence. Instead there has been a surge in bloodshed, particularly this month, underlined by the decision of the British government to evacuate many staff from its consulate in Basra to the more heavily fortified British base at the airport outside the city.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006