Friday, February 24, 2006
By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Writer -- Friday, 23 minutes ago
BAGHDAD, Iraq - 's most influential Shiite political leader called Friday for Sunni-Shiite unity as religious figures sought to calm passions and pull the nation from the brink of civil war after the bombing of a Shiite shrine two days ago and a wave of deadly reprisal attacks.
An Iraqi policeman stands guard as Sunni Muslims, left, offer Friday prayers in Baghdad, Friday, Feb.24, 2006. Police and soldiers blocked major roads and surrounded Baghdad's two main Sunni mosques as streets throughout this city of nearly 7 million emptied of people and traffic. The nation stood on the brink of civil war and the American strategy in Iraq faced it's gravest test since the 2003 invasion. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hato)
The government, meanwhile, announced stepped-up security measures, including a ban on entering or leaving Baghdad and deployment of armed forces in tense areas.
An extraordinary daytime curfew in Baghdad and three nearby provinces appeared to have blunted the wave of attacks on Sunni mosques that followed Wednesday's bombing, which destroyed the golden dome of the Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra.
Still, Iraqis feared the violence that killed about 130 people after the Samarra attack had pushed the country closer to sectarian civil war than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion nearly three years ago.
Several joint Sunni-Shiite prayer services were announced for Friday, including one at the Askariya shrine. But security forces turned away about 700 people, virtually all of them Sunnis, who showed up for the service.
In a statement read over national television, top Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said those who carried out the bombing in Samarra "do not represent the Sunnis in Iraq."
Al-Hakim instead blamed loyalists and followers of al-Qaida in Iraq boss Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
"We all have to unite in order to eliminate them," al-Hakim said in a statement. "This is what al-Zarqawi is working for, that is, to ignite sectarian strife in the country," he added. "We call for self-restraint and not to be dragged down by the plots of the enemy of Iraq."
Dhafer al-Ani, spokesman for the biggest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, praised al-Hakim's statement, calling it "a step on the road of healing the wounds."
But he said his Iraqi Accordance Front was still waiting for an apology from the government for failing to protect Sunni mosques from reprisal attacks, as well as a commitment to repair the damage and bring those responsible to justice.
Dave Haigler, Abilene, Texas
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