An Iraqi Sunni Muslim shakes hand with a Shiite Muslim.
Sectarian Attacks Surge Despite Curfew in Iraq
Saturday, February 25, 2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Sunni and Shiite clerics reached an agreement Saturday in Iraq that could quell sectiarian violence with has claimed nearly 50 lives in the last day and riddled the country with attacks after this week's bombing of a Shiite shrine.
A car bomb exploded in a Shiite holy city and 13 members of a Shiite family were gunned down Saturday in a surge of attacks despite heightened security to curb violence.
President Bush called the head of Iraq's largest Shiite political party Saturday to discuss the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra, the Shiite leader's office said in a statement. Bush also called six other leaders of Iraq to lend support to help calm the recent spurt of violence.
Bush condemned the attack on the Askariya shrine and offered to help rebuild it, according to a statement from Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim's office. During the 15-minute call, he also pressed al-Hakim to work toward the formation of a new government.
Al-Hakim told Bush that Shiite religious leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, are doing their best to help calm the situation, the statement said.
"Iraq needs to review and study the security situation and prepare detailed plans similar to what happened in the United States of America following 9/11," al-Hakim was quoted as telling Bush.
Several leading Sunni and Shiite clerics met Saturday and agreed to prohibit killings of members of each other's sects and to ban attacks on mosques and shrines.
The meeting involved representatives of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Shiite religious leader Jawad al-Khalisi and members of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars at the Abu Hanifa Mosque, a Sunni place of worship.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also met with al-Hakim on Saturday.
At least one more Sunni mosque was attacked in Baghdad on Saturday after two rockets were fired at a Shiite mosque in Tuz Khormato, north of the capital, the previous night. Shooting also broke out near the home of a prominent Sunni cleric during the funeral procession for an Al-Arabiya TV correspondent slain in sectarian violence. Police believed the procession was the target.
The violence occurred despite an extraordinary daytime curfew in Baghdad and three surrounding provinces. It was lifted at 4 p.m. in most areas, but the government announced a 24-hour ban on vehicular movements in Baghdad and its suburbs starting at 6 a.m. Sunday.
Despite the extra measures, the stretched security forces could not contain attacks that have killed more than 190 people since Wednesday's shrine bombing and pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
Political and religious leaders were anxious to contain the violence unleashed by extremists on both sides that have frozen efforts to form a new government that Washington considers essential if it is to start withdrawing U.S. troops this year.
The main Sunni Arab political bloc said Saturday it "will not hesitate to reconsider" its decision to pull out of coalition talks if Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, follows through on promises to ease the crisis.
In a statement Friday, al-Jaafari pledged to rebuild the Shiite shrine wrecked in Samarra as well as Sunni mosques damaged in reprisal attacks. He also launched an investigation to establish responsibility for the Samarra bombing "and what followed."
In its statement, the Sunni front said the prime minister's statement included "positive signs."
"Although we appreciate the stance of the government, it is important that such decisions be put into force despite the deterioration of the security situation," the Sunni statement said.
U.S. officials remain hopeful the Sunnis will return to the discussions, but the crisis may delay forming the government, which had been expected by mid-May.
In Karbala, a city 50 miles south of Baghdad not covered by the daytime curfew, a car bomb killed at least five people and injured more than 30, police and hospital officials said.
A suspect arrested after the blast told police the intended targets were the city's holy shrines of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and his half brother, Imam Abbas, Karbala Gov. Aqeel al-Khazali told The Associated Press.
But the suspect could not penetrate the network of checkpoints set up before this month's massive Ashoura religious festival, according to the governor.
The assailant instead parked the vehicle on a street in the north of the city, drawing the attention of local residents. When a policeman opened the trunk to investigate, the car exploded, a local officer said. Al-Khazali said the suspect was captured with the detonator still on him.
In Buhriz, a Sunni-insurgent stronghold covered by the curfew, gunmen burst into a Shiite house and killed 13 people, provincial police said. The victims — three generations of one family — were all men, police said.
Followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said his militiamen were ready to defend Diyala province — an ominous sign of the possible Shiite reaction to come. Many Shiites fear Iraq's official security forces are incapable of protecting them and instead look to private militias for security.
The shooting around the home of Harith al-Dhari, head of the Association of Muslim Scholars, broke out as the funeral procession for Al-Arabiya journalist Atwar Bahjat was passing by. She and two colleagues were killed Wednesday while covering the bombing of the Askariya mosque in Samarra.
When the mourners were returning later from the cemetery, a car bomb ripped through an Iraqi military patrol escorting the mourners. At least two soldiers and one police commando were killed in the mayhem, police and army officials said. Six people, including civilians, were injured.
At least two rockets slammed into homes in Baghdad's Shiite slum, Sadr City, killing three people, including a child, and injuring seven.
Late Friday, two rockets exploded in the British Embassy compound in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, slightly injuring two British workers, the U.S. military reported.
The Iraqi army hit back in the Baqouba area, killing four gunmen and arresting 28 others suspected attacking Iraqi and coalition forces in the previous 24 hours, army Brig. Gen. Saman Talabani said Saturday.
Police have found dozens of bodies — many of them cuffed and shot — in Baghdad and other areas since Wednesday's shrine bombing. The bodies of 14 Iraqi police commandos were found with their burned vehicles midday Saturday near a Sunni mosque in southwestern Baghdad, police Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.
The prime minister announced additional security measures Friday, including a ban on vehicles entering or leaving Baghdad, more patrols in tense neighborhoods, and a ban on carrying unauthorized weapons.
The government also extended the daytime curfew for a second day in Baghdad and the flashpoint provinces of Babil, Diyala and Salaheddin, where the shrine bombing took place. And the U.S. military said it would carry out additional security patrols for another 48 hours.
The curfew prevented many from reaching mosques Friday, but people were allowed to walk to neighborhood services, many of which were guarded by Iraqi police and soldiers. Preachers at several leading mosques urged their followers to maintain calm for the sake of the nation, and a number of demonstrations called for Shiite-Sunni unity.
Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for these savages.
Actually unifying as opposed to being herded like sheep by AQ plots is a HUGE step for them.
Kudos to them, I suppose.