By THOMAS WAGNER and QAIS Al-BASHIR
The Associated Press
Saturday, November 25, 2006; 1:31 PM
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Gunmen broke into two Shiite homes and killed 21 men in front of their relatives in an Iraqi village, police said Saturday, as Vice President Dick Cheney sought Saudi Arabia's help in calming Iraq after an especially violent week of sectarian violence. U.S. and Iraqi forces also killed 58 insurgents during fighting north of the capital, they said.
Baghdad remained under a 24-hour curfew two days after suspected Sunni insurgents killed 215 people in Baghdad's main Shiite district with a combination of bombs and mortars.
Another 87 people were killed or found dead in sectarian violence across Iraq on Friday. The chaos cast a shadow over the summit next week between Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Bush in Amman, Jordan.
Politicians loyal to the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have threatened to boycott parliament and the Cabinet if al-Maliki goes ahead with the meeting. The political bloc, known as Sadrists, is a mainstay of support for al-Maliki.
Sadrist lawmaker Qusai Abdul-Wahab blamed U.S. forces for Thursday's attack in Sadr City because they failed to provide security.
In Diyala province, a hotbed of Iraq's Sunni-Arab insurgency, gunmen raided two Shiite homes Friday night. The attack targeted members of the al-Sawed Shiite tribe in the village of Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, according to a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his own security, as officials often do in the increasingly volatile province.
Earlier that day, rampaging militiamen burned and blew up four mosques and torched several homes in the capital's mostly Shia neighborhood of Hurriyah, police said. Iraqi soldiers at a nearby army post failed to intervene in the assault by suspected members of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia or subsequent attacks that killed a total of 25 Sunnis, including women and children, said police Capt. Jamil Hussein.
The U.S. military said Saturday that Iraqi soldiers securing the Hurriyah area had found only one burned mosque and could not confirm reports that six Sunni civilians had been burned to death with kerosene.
Al-Sadr on Friday urged Harith al-Dhari, the Sunnis' most influential leader who heads the Association of Muslim Scholars, to issue a religious edict condemning Sunni attacks on Shiites.
In an apparent response, Al-Dhari held a news conference in Cairo, Egypt, on Saturday and said the association has repeatedly condemned the killing of Iraqi Muslims and attacks on their homes and mosques.
He also condemned what he called Iraq's biased Shiite-dominated government.
"I call upon Arab states, the Arab League and the United Nations to stop their support for Iraq's government. Otherwise, there will no doubt be a catastrophe in Iraq," said al-Dhari.
Last week, Iraq's Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant against al-Dhari, saying he was wanted for inciting violence and terrorism.
A U.S. Marine died from wounds sustained while fighting in Anbar province on Friday, the military reported.
Cheney arrived Saturday in Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah, apparently seeking the Sunni royal family's influence and tribal connections to calm Iraq. The vice president was not planning additional stops in the region.
Meanwhile, funeral processions were held in Sadr City on Saturday for a second day for the victims of Thursday's attack. An official from al-Sadr's main office in the slum visited hospitals treating some of the 257 people who were wounded in the attack, and he gave them small donations of cash in envelopes.
In Diyala, Iraqi police killed 36 insurgents and wounded dozens of others during in clashes on Saturday in different areas of the province, police said.
And U.S. and Iraqi forces killed 22 insurgents and an Iraqi civilian, and destroyed a factory being used to make roadside bombs, during several raids north of Baghdad.
During three of the coalition raids, soldiers killed 10 insurgents near the city of Taji, 12 miles north of Baghdad and home to a major U.S. air base. An Iraqi teenage boy also was killed and a pregnant Iraqi woman was wounded in the crossfire, the military said.
"Coalition forces strive to mitigate risks to civilians while in pursuit of terrorists. It is always a shame when terrorists hide among civilian women and children, putting them in harm's way," the U.S. military said.
Soldiers searching the area also found hidden caches of rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons and pipe bombs.
Many U.S. soldiers are killed and wounded in Iraq by powerful roadside bombs used by insurgents.
In another area north of Baghdad, coalition forces attacked three vehicles carrying 12 insurgents, including one they were searching for because he allegedly was involved in the manufacture of car bombs, the coalition said.
The soldiers opened fire on the cars when they ignored warning shots, and all the militants were killed, the military said. The coalition declined to give the exact location of the incident.