Friday, November 24, 2006


Baghdad locked down after Sadr City bombings

Security, Politics
As funeral processions began on Friday following deadly car bomb attacks on Thursday in Sadr City, a Shi'ite stronghold, which killed 160 in the bloodiest single attack of the war, the death toll from the blasts rose to 202. Meanwhile in the northern city of Talafar a car bomb killed at a least 22 people. Tal Afar, close to the Syrian border, is mostly home to Turkish-speaking ethnic Turkmen who are divided between Shia and Sunni Muslim believers.
Also on Friday morning, three mortar rounds exploded near the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad. The mosque is one of the most important religious sites for Sunni Muslims in Iraq. A guard was wounded. Baghdad is under an indefinite curfew and its airport has been closed. Announcing the curfew, the authorities said Baghdad's seven million residents and vehicles must stay off the streets until further notice. The Iraqi authorities have also closed Basra's air and sea ports in the south.
In a show of unity, leaders of Iraq's Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities held a joint news conference in which they appealed for calm. Iraq's most prominent Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, "urged people not to react illegally and maintain self-restraint and calm," one of his officials said. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has appealed for restraint. "We denounce sectarian practices that aim to destroy the unity of the nation," Mr Maliki said in a television broadcast on Thursday.
"It's an extravagant attack specifically designed to trigger retaliation," said Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at Queen Mary, University of London, likening it to the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra in Febuary that sparked a surge in bloodshed. Iraqi and U.S. leaders accuse al Qaeda and diehard followers of deposed president Saddam Hussein of seeking to provoke a Shi'ite backlash in order to profit from ensuing chaos.

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