Iraqi police and soldiers took to the streets Friday to enforce a daytime ban on private vehicles in an effort to blunt a surge of sectarian violence that has pushed Iraq to the edge of civil war.
The assault began as a series of mortar shells slammed into the Nahrawan power station, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majed said. Half an hour later, dozens of gunmen arrived and set fire to the generating facility. Security guards returned fire, and the Iraqi police and army sent in reinforcements, he said.
At least nine people were killed and three injured in the gunbattle, police Lt. Mohammed Kheyoun said. He identified the victims as guards and technicians at the facility but did not know if any attackers were killed or wounded.
In the adjacent Maamil suburb, gunmen killed 10 Shiite southerners employed at a brick factory as they slept in their shacks, said Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi, an Interior Ministry official. Police believed the gunmen may have been part of the same group that attacked the power station, he said.
The government imposed the vehicle ban Friday in a bid to avert more attacks on the day Muslims congregate in large numbers for the most important prayer service of the week.
In other developments:
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari warned preachers not to incite hatred or violence in their sermons, threatening them with "severe measures."
"Our hope is that Friday sermons be sermons of unity," al-Jaafari said in a statement late Thursday. "The street is angry and they should know how to calm the people and reassure them that the government will do all it can to pass through this period."
Security forces sealed off Baghdad, preventing most vehicles from entering or leaving the city of 7 million, said Capt. Adil Mohan of the traffic police.
Armed police and soldiers in bulletproof vests manned checkpoints across the capital, preventing most cars and motorcycles from leaving their neighborhoods.
Militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr were also out in force in the teeming Shiite slum known as Sadr City, helping police check cars and patrol the area.
The collaboration was likely to raise alarm among Sunni Arabs, who accuse followers of the firebrand cleric of numerous attacks against them in recent days. U.S. officials have also been pressing for the disbanding of private militias.