Attacks shatter Iraq calm

At least four people were killed and 15 wounded in the bomb attack outside the mosque as the faithful were leaving evening prayers in eastern Baghdad.

It was the latest strike against Iraq’s Sunni minority since Shi’ite mobs unleashed a wave of vengeance after a revered Shi’ite shrine was blown up in the town of Samarra on Wednesday.

In a mostly Shiite area of Baghad mortar shelling killed four people and wounded 14, while two people were killed by gunmen who opened fire on a garage in Baquba, east of the capital.

The bloodshed came as Iraqi authorities lifted a daytime curfew and positioned tanks in certain regions of Baghdad as they sought to defuse the crisis that had pushed Iraq to the precipice of civil war.

It was unclear whether the attacks would strain efforts to lure Sunni parties back into talks on forming the country’s next government after they bolted negotiations last Thursday in anger over the attacks on their community.

Sunni participation in government is seen as crucial to ending the community’s insurgency, which has plunged Iraq into chaos since US forces toppled Saddam’s regime in 2003.

The main Sunni political bloc, the National Concord Front, had earlier indicated it would return to talks if Sunni religious sanctuaries that it claimed were seized by Shi’ite militias were returned to them.

Crowded streets

In Baghdad, there were signs of normality as both cars and pedestrians again crowded the streets after the lifting of a curfew and a 24-hour vehicle ban imposed in the wake of the violence that killed more than 120 people.

However, a three-hour extension to the usual seven-hour night curfew remained in place in the capital and the three central provinces of Salaheddin, Babil and Diyala.

General Abdel Aziz Mohammed, the defence ministry’s chief of operations, announced tank deployments in parts of Baghdad, and warned that soldiers were now ordered to arrest anyone carrying weapons illegally.

Iraqi radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia was accused of attacking Sunnis, told reporters in his home town of Najaf he had returned early from a trip to Iran to assert control over the militia, while denying it was responsible for the violence.

Meanwhile ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, has ended his 11 day hunger strike, calling upon all Iraqis to unite.

He also praised the role played by top Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani in trying to curb the sectarian violence.

Through a statement distributed by his lawyer, Saddam called “for unity at all levels to stop those who want to trigger sedition and division.”

Saddam and seven co-accused, whose trial resumes on Wednesday, face the death penalty if found guilty of crime against humanity.


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