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As a dark Toyota sedan approached an Iraqi Army checkpoint on Monday afternoon just outside Sadr City, the huge Baghdad slum that is Mr. Sadr’s power base, a soldier in fatigues and a mask that covered most of his face pointed his weapon and shouted, “Get out of the car!”

The occupants, including a reporter for The New York Times, quickly complied. It turned out that the soldier suspected them of being members of the Mahdi Army, which tends to prefer black Toyotas.

“The Americans will shoot this kind of car, especially if it’s full of men,” said the soldier, referring to the American military, after checking identification cards and waving the car through.

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