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Iraqis Meet Amid Chaos

The premier conducts emergency talks with factions as Bush calls the nation's political leaders to urge cooperation. The curfew is extended.

February 26, 2006|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — With sectarian violence surging Saturday after a day of relative calm, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari met in emergency session with Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political leaders, and a daytime curfew in Baghdad was extended as Defense Ministry officials threatened to send tanks into the streets to prevent further bloodletting and attacks on mosques.

U.S.-led troops, meanwhile, stepped up patrols in the capital and President Bush, in an unusual diplomatic gesture, called seven Iraqi political leaders and encouraged them to work together to defuse the violence that began when a venerated Shiite shrine in Samarra was bombed Wednesday by unknown assailants.

The Iraqi leaders emerged together from their three-hour meeting in a show of unity that was broadcast live on state television. Jafari, a Shiite, was flanked by Shiite politicians but also by Sunni Arabs, who had threatened to boycott the political process after a series of killings and attacks on Sunni mosques followed the explosion at Samarra's Golden Mosque.

The officials announced the establishment of a national security committee that would include Sunnis who are not in the Shiite-led Iraqi government.

"By the end of the meeting, all were standing together behind a common sense of principles," said a Western diplomat who was present at the session. "People have found a way not only back to the table but to the decision-making room, and they have agreed on a plan."

With many Iraqis still fearing that the nation is on the verge of a sectarian civil war, the government canceled all leave for security forces, announced a continued state of emergency and extended the curfew in Baghdad for 34 hours.

At the same time, both U.S. and Iraqi government officials sought to play down the continuing violence, and they disputed media accounts, calling them exaggerated.

On Saturday, the violence continued, with at least 50 more people killed in attacks across the country.

In the Shiite holy city of Karbala, home to the two of the sect's most important shrines, a car bomb killed at least seven people, local hospital officials said. The explosives-packed vehicle was detonated using a wireless device, according to police who said three Iraqi officers were killed in the blast.

In a village near Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad, gunmen broke into a house and killed an entire Shiite family of 12, Iraqi officials said.

On Baghdad's outskirts, the funeral procession of Atwar Bahjat, a popular female TV anchor from the Al Arabiya station, was attacked Saturday as it passed through the town of Abu Ghraib. Two police officers were shot dead and five were wounded, officials said. Bahjat and two colleagues were killed Wednesday in Samarra as they were covering the shrine bombing.

In Baghdad, mortar rounds rained down on various neighborhoods starting at 8 a.m., killing three people in the impoverished Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City. Eight people were wounded in three attacks.

Just west of the capital, a roadside bomb exploded in Khan Dari, killing one police commando and injuring three.

Police reported the discovery of another 28 bodies Saturday morning, 15 of those in Baghdad and 13 in neighboring Diyala province, a mixed Sunni and Shiite area.

Late Saturday evening, appeals for help could be heard from a Sunni mosque in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Amariya.

"Help us, help us," a cleric called through the mosque loudspeakers as gunfire raged outside. "People of Amariya, come and help."

Defense Minister Saadoun Dulaimi said the government was ready to send tanks into the streets if necessary.

"There are armored brigades that are waiting for a sign to go at any time," Dulaimi said. Interior Ministry officials, meanwhile, announced that security forces would also seek to enforce a weapons ban.

Bush, in his phone calls, spoke to the leaders of each of Iraq's main political groups for the first time since the Samarra attack and the violence that followed.

"He encouraged them to continue to work together to thwart efforts of the perpetrators of the violence to sow discord among Iraq's communities," said Frederick Jones, a spokesman for the White House's National Security Council. "The president underscored his support for Iraqi efforts to build a government of national unity."

Among the leaders Bush spoke with were Prime Minister Jafari; President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd; Tariq Hashemi, a leader of the main Sunni coalition; Abdelaziz Hakim, leader of Iraq's largest Shiite political party; Hachim Hassani, a Sunni and speaker of the National Assembly; Iyad Allawi, a former interim premier who is a secular Shiite with Sunni allies; and Massoud Barzani, a Kurdish leader.

Hakim's Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq said he told Bush that in the wake of the mosque bombing, Iraq, like the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks, needed to revive national security plans.

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