Mon, Feb 27, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Sectarian violence rages on with bombings in Iraq

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD AND TEHRAN

A bomb killed five people at a bus station south of Baghdad yesterday, breaking a relative calm after Iraqi and US leaders appealed for an end to days of sectarian bloodshed that have pitched Iraq toward civil war.

A bomb in the washroom of a Shiite mosque in the second city of Basra caused minor injuries, police said; it went off shortly after a rally in another part of the city by visiting young Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a fiery militia leader.

The Hilla bomb destroyed a minibus as it drove out of a bus garage. Hilla is a mainly Shiite town surrounded by Sunni villages, and the attack came two days short of the anniversary of the bloodiest single al-Qaeda bombing, which killed 125 people there a year ago.

Another bomb killed two US soldiers overnight in Baghdad.

Hours earlier, following a round of calls to Iraqi leaders by US President George W. Bush, Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari made a midnight televised appeal, flanked by Sunni and Kurdish politicians, to Iraqis not to turn on each other after Wednesday's suspected al-Qaeda bomb at a Shiite shrine.

A three-hour meeting produced a commitment from the main political groups to form a unity coalition, although Sunni leader Tareq al-Hashemi said he was not yet ready to end a boycott of the US-sponsored coalition talks.

Four days of tit-for-tat attacks have left over 200 dead and many mosques damaged, despite a daytime curfew on Baghdad that went into its third day yesterday; the defense minister warned of the risk of a civil war that "will never end."

A traffic ban intended to help stifle the violence remained in force in the capital. But in addition to the attack on the US soldiers, a mortar round landed near a Shiite mosque in the east of the city, though without causing injury.

Near Madaen, another flashpoint for Sunni-Shiite violence just to the southeast, a policeman was killed and two were wounded when their patrol was hit by roadside bombs. In Hilla, police said it was not clear if the bomb was inside the minibus or exploded in the road as it passed, just as it was leaving the bus station.

Jaafari, under US pressure to forge a national unity government after an election in December, the first that the once-dominant Sunni minority had taken part in, said he was hopeful that Iraqis would step back from sectarian strife.

"The Iraqi people have one enemy; it is terrorism and only terrorism. There are no Sunnis against Shiites," he said.

Meanwhile, the British embassy in Tehran was attacked with gasoline bombs and rocks yesterday as hundreds of Iranian militiamen protested over the bombing of the shrine on Wednesday.

Some 700 protestors, mainly from the student wing of the official Basij militia, jostled with riot police.

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