More violence in Iraq as Baghdad death toll hits 215


November 24, 2006
Two bombings killed 22 people in northern Iraq on Friday as the death toll from yesterday’s attacks in Baghdad’s Sadr City reached 215.

Friday’s explosions, in Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, also wounded 26 people, police Brig. Khalaf al-Jubouri said, expecting the casualty figure to rise.

Reuters news agency quoted a police officer as saying the 22 who died were shopping at a market.

Iraqi officials say more than 215 people were killed and 257 wounded in Thursday’s multiple car bomb blasts, the deadliest in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

In an immediate response, the Iraqi government imposed an indefinite, 24-hour curfew in Baghdad. The country’s international airport has also been closed to commercial flights until further notice.

The only people and vehicles allowed on the streets on Friday were those taking part in the funeral processions for the victims of Thursday’s attacks.

Meanwhile, Shia, Sunni and Kurdish leaders in Iraq appealed for calm in a show of unity.

Iraq’s most prominent Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urged people “not to react illegally and maintain self-restraint”, one of his officials said.

In the western Sunni city of Falluja, cleric Khaled Muhammed told worshippers on Friday: “I call on the people of Falluja to send money, food and clothes to our brothers in Sadr City and Adhamiya — we have a common enemy who attacked them to spark sectarian strife between us.”

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki also urged Iraqis not to resort to violence. “We denounce sectarian practices that aim to destroy the unity of the nation,” he said.

Despite the appeals and the curfew, several mortar rounds struck the Um al-Qura mosque, the headquarters of Association of Muslim Scholars in western Baghdad, wounding four guards, police said.

Three mortar rounds also exploded near a major Sunni mosque in Baghdad, injuring one guard, according to the Associated Press.

* Sadr’s bloc threatens to boycott gov’t

The group led by Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to boycott the parliament if the prime minister met the U.S. President George W. Bush in Jordan next week.

Sadr’s political bloc, until now a key supporter of Iraq’s Shia-led government, said that U.S. occupation forces were to blame for Thursday’s attacks because they failed to provide security.

“We have asked Maliki to cancel his meeting with Bush as there is no reason to meet the criminal who is behind terrorism in Iraq,” Faleh Hasan Shanshal, one of Sadr’s top political aides in parliament, told Reuters.

“We will suspend our membership in parliament and the cabinet if he goes ahead,” he added.

Al-Sadr’s followers hold six cabinet seats and have 30 members in the 275-member parliament. Their withdrawal would deal a major blow to Maliki’s already shaky government, correspondents say.

Meanwhile, the UN envoy to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, warned that yesterday’s attacks could push Iraq “into a cycle of uncontrollable violence threatening the very social fabric of Iraq or any prospects for a future of peace, tolerance and unity.”

Violence surged in Iraq after the Feb.22 bombing of a major Shia shrine in the northern city of Smarraa.

On Wednesday, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said more than 3,709 Iraqis have been killed in October, the highest death toll in the war-torn country since the invasion. It also stated that Iraqi citizens were fleeing the country at a pace of 100,000 each month, and that at least 1.6 million Iraqis have left since the war began

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