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Baghdad Imposes Daytime Curfew as Violence Escalates Following Shiite Mosque Bombing
by Democracy Now (reposted)
Friday Feb 24th, 2006 7:33 AM
At least 140 people have been killed over the past two days in Iraq following the bombing of one of the country’s main Shiite shrines. We’ll go to Baghdad for a report and speak with an Iraqi blogger and activist.
In Iraq, at least 140 people have been killed nationwide over the past 48 hours, prompting officials and politicians to appeal for calm amid growing concerns of a slide into all-out civil war. The violence was sparked by the bombing of the Askariya mosque - one of the countrie’s main Shiite shrines - in Samarra on Wednesday. In response, the government has declared an unprecedented daytime curfew for Baghdad and three nearby provinces in an effort to prevent more bloodshed. Additionally, civilian flights from Baghdad airport have been cancelled.

Iraq’s largest Sunni religious organization said 184 mosques have been attacked, ten clerics killed, and another fifteen abducted over the past two days. In the worst single incident, 47 factory workers were killed and their bodies dumped in a ditch outside Baghdad. In Baquba, at least sixteen people were killed in a suicide bomb attack at a market and thirteen bullet-riddled bodies were found Thursday night in different areas of Baghdad. Seven U.S. soldiers were killed in two roadside bombings. The U.S. military has reportedly ordered soldiers in Baghdad to stay in their barracks and are "watching and waiting to see what the next 48 hours will bring,” according to the New York Times.

In protest at the unrest, Sunni politicians have pulled out of emergency talks convened by President Jalaal Talabani. The Sunni alliance has also announced its withdrawal from negotiations to form a coalition government.

In a rare public rebuke, the main Sunni religious authority - the Association of Muslim Scholars - accused Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, of fomenting the violence. Sistani has urged Shias not to attack Sunni mosques, but a spokesman for the cleric said anger might be hard to contain.

Meanwhile, Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr added his voice to those calling for restraint. He charged that the Iraqi government and the US had failed to protect the Askariyah shrine and commanded his Mahdi Army militiamen to guard Shiite shrines throughout Iraq.

Several joint Sunni-Shiite demonstrations were held Friday morning in Basra, Kut and Mosul to condemn violence and call for national unity. And the staff of satellite TV channel Al Arabiya is in mourning today following the assassination of one of its best-known correspondents in Iraq. The 30-year-old Atwar Bahjat was killed along her cameraman and soundman. Their bodies were found Thursday near Samarra.

* Tom Lasseter, Baghdad correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers. He joins us on the line from Baghdad.
* Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi blogger activist and architect who runs the popular blog "Raed in the Middle." He was in Iraq during and after the 2003 invasion and he took part in a number of humanitarian and political projects. He recently moved from Iraq to the Bay Area.

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