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Iraq: Uneasy Calm Follows Attacks On Key Shi’ite Shrine

Deserted Baghdad streets on June 13 following the imposition of a curfew (epa) June 14, 2007 -- Iraqi authorities have imposed a curfew in Baghdad and Samarra following a bomb attack on June 13 that destroyed the two minarets of Samarra's revered al-Askari (Golden) Mosque.

By Iraqi standards, the situation following the attack on the landmark Shi’ite mosque has been relatively calm.

Increased U.S. and Iraqi military patrols today are crisscrossing the streets of Baghdad, and additional checkpoints have been set up along roads leading to the Shi’ite stronghold of Sadr City.

Despite the increased security, some sectarian violence was reported.

Police in the southern city of Al-Basrah today said that three Sunni mosques in that Shi’ite-dominated city came under fire from gunmen. Four people were killed and six wounded in attacks in Al-Basrah on June 13, all involving rocket-propelled grenades.

In addition, four Sunni mosques near Baghdad were attacked or burned within several hours of the Samarra explosions.

But so far, it has been nothing like the carnage unleashed after the original attack on the Samarra mosque 16 months ago, which led to a frenzy of sectarian killings between Shi’a and Sunnis.

Shi'a Call For Restraint

One key factor appears to have been radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s appeal for calm.

Al-Sadr, whose militia was blamed for unleashing much of the sectarian violence the last time around, said on June 13 that he could not believe any Muslim -- Sunni or Shi’ite -- could have attacked the Golden Mosque.

He said instead that he believed the United States was behind the plot.

Nonetheless, Al-Sadr said his 30-member bloc in the 275-seat parliament would suspend its participation in the legislature until the mosque is rebuilt, as a show of protest.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has promised a full investigation. So far, it remains unclear how the well-guarded mosque could have been struck again.

One Samarra resident, describing the attack to Reuters, said the mosque was under tightened security maintained by police commandos at the time of the attack.

"The first minaret was blown up at 9 o'clock, and ten minutes later, the second one was blown up. We do not know who blew it up," the Samarra resident said. "Curfew has been imposed and security is tightened.... And when we ask, [the Iraqi security forces] said the terrorists did it."

(compiled from agency reports)

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