Iraq Faction Leaders Condemn Violence

Iraqis retrieve belongings from a home damaged in a mortar attack in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City. Attacks across Iraq killed at least 40 people.
Iraqis retrieve belongings from a home damaged in a mortar attack in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City. Attacks across Iraq killed at least 40 people. (By Wathiq Khuzaie -- Getty Images)

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By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 26, 2006

BAGHDAD, Feb. 25 -- Leaders of Iraq's rival factions held an emergency meeting Saturday and agreed to condemn the sectarian violence that has gripped the country over the past four days. But despite a two-day-old curfew in Baghdad and three neighboring provinces, at least 40 Iraqis were killed in scattered attacks.

After a largely quiet Friday, attacks on a Shiite family in Baqubah, a funeral procession in Baghdad and a busy street in Karbala on Saturday renewed fears that Iraq was headed toward civil war. Soldiers and police in Baghdad will maintain a ban on vehicle traffic through Sunday, authorities said. Baghdad International Airport was closed and so were roads in and out of the capital.

Meanwhile, political leaders tried to reach a rapprochement before it was too late to stop the slide toward open warfare. Sunni Arab leaders had pulled out of negotiations on Thursday, but had rejoined talks with Shiites and ethnic Kurds by Saturday evening. With the encouragement of President Bush, who called seven politicians from the three sides to encourage them to seek peace, the faction leaders met for three hours.

When the Iraqi leaders came out of the meeting for a news conference broadcast on Iraqi television, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari solemnly removed his glasses and announced unequivocally that there would not be a civil war in Iraq.

The crisis erupted on Wednesday, when unidentified attackers bombed the golden-domed Askariya shrine in Samarra, a site sacred to Shiites about 65 miles north of Baghdad. In the three days since, militias affiliated with Shiite political parties have sought revenge by attacking or occupying Sunni mosques and detaining or killing worshipers. Sunni Arabs have responded by hastily forming local defense forces and conducting their own attacks.

A U.S. military spokesman disputed the media's account of the crisis to date, saying that 22 mosques had been attacked since the Samarra bombing, a considerably smaller number than the 120 reported by al-Iraqiya television on Friday.

U.S. and Iraqi officials also said 119 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the fighting, but that number -- also smaller than previous reports of up to 200 dead -- did not include Saturday's deaths.

The attacks were carried out despite an extraordinary daytime curfew that went into effect in Baghdad, Diyala, Babil and Salahuddin provinces on Friday. The curfew will be lifted in all four provinces on Sunday morning, although Baghdad will continue to ban vehicle traffic.

On Saturday morning, near the predominantly Sunni Arab town of Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, gunmen burst into the house of a Shiite family and killed 12 people. The victims, all men, represented three generations of the family, the Associated Press reported.

In Karbala, a Shiite holy city about 60 miles southwest of Baghdad that is not covered by the curfew, a car bomb killed at least seven people and injured 52, police and hospital officials said. Karbala's governor said on television that a suspect, who witnesses said detonated the bomb by remote control, was caught as he tried to flee the scene.

In Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on the funeral procession for an al-Arabiya television reporter killed along with two colleagues while covering the bombing in Samarra. One security guard was killed in the firefight, the network said. As mourners returned from the cemetery, a car bomb ripped through an Iraqi military patrol that was escorting them, killing two soldiers and a police officer, news agencies reported.

Police in the capital said they found the bodies of 14 police commandos near a Sunni mosque that police said was attacked overnight by gunmen wearing black, the Reuters news agency reported. Six others were killed in two mortar attacks in the capital.

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