Iraq Curfew Fails To End Violence

Iraqi medics place dead Iraqis outside the morgue of a local hospital in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, Saturday, February 25. Twelve farm laborers were found shot dead in an orchard in the confessionally mixed province of Diyala, the latest in a spate of multiple murders to hit Iraq since the destruction of a Shiite shrine, medics said.
A curfew has slowed but not stopped the violence in Iraq.

A car bomb exploded in a Shiite holy city and 13 members of one Shiite family were gunned down northeast of the capital Saturday despite the heightened security aimed at curbing sectarian violence after the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine. Nearly 50 people were reported killed in all.

Also, another Sunni mosque was attacked in Baghdad on Saturday after two rockets were fired the previous night at a Shiite mosque in Tuz Khormato, north of the capital. Shooting also broke out near the home of a prominent Sunni cleric as the funeral procession for an Al-Arabiya TV correspondent slain in sectarian violence was passing by. Police believed the procession was the target.

An extraordinary daylight curfew was in effect for the second day running 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 be everywhere to 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, which have frozen efforts to form a new government that Washington considers essential if it is to reduce U.S. troop levels 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 that was 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 other developments:

  • Police have found scores 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 circumstances of their deaths were not immediately clear.
  • In Karbala, a city 50 miles south of Baghdad which was 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 a 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 aged 20-70 years, police said.
  • Followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said his militiamen were ready to defend the people of 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 was killed Wednesday along with two colleagues 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 that was 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 late Friday, causing minor injuries to 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 of attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces in the past 24 hours, army Brig. Gen. Saman Talabani told reporters Saturday.

    In a bid to contain the violence, 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.

  • Some progress is being made in the training of Iraqi troops, but the number of Iraqi army battalions that can fight without U.S. help has dropped from one to zero. But Pentagon officials say the number of Iraqi battalions that could fight with the U.S. in a supporting role has grown by nearly 50 percent. The number of them actually engaged in combat has jumped as well, by 11 percent.