Blast at mosque in Basra, 23 dead in more violence
* Eight dead, 32 wounded in Baghdad mortar attack
* Bus station bomb kills five
* Two US soldiers, one Iraqi policeman killed
* Prime minister appeals for calm
BASRA: Explosives packed into the wash area of a Shia mosque in the southern city of Basra blew up on Sunday, causing minor injuries, police and witnesses said. At least 23 people were killed in bombing and mortar and gunfire elsewhere in Iraq.
Police said they suspected three men wounded in the mosque attack were planting the bomb when it exploded prematurely. The blast at the Imam Ali mosque caused initial panic at a time of raging sectarian violence in Iraq, which has raised fears of a slide into civil war. It came shortly after firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr held a rally in Basra calling on Sunnis and Shias to hold joint prayers on Friday.
At least eight people were killed and 32 wounded on Sunday when mortars fell on two Shia neighbourhoods in southern Baghdad, an interior ministry official said.
Eight mortars fell on two Shia neighbourhoods, two on a vegetable market in Al-Saidiya and the rest landed on houses in Abuchir district in southern Baghdad, the official added.
A bomb killed five people at a bus station south of Baghdad on Sunday. The bomb destroyed a minibus as it drove out of a bus garage in Hilla, a mainly Shia town surrounded by Sunni villages.
Another bomb killed two US soldiers overnight in Baghdad despite a third day of draconian curfew measures in the capital.
Gunmen opened fire on a crowd of teenage boys playing football in Baquba, killing two youngsters and wounding five in what a police official said was a sectarian attack.
“This destruction was an attempt to spread sectarian tensions,” said the official, who asked not to be named.
The official said three gunmen in a car drove up to the area where the boys were gathered and opened fire. They were playing soccer in a mixed Shia and Sunni neighbourhood in Baquba, he said.
Near Madaen, a policeman was killed and two were wounded when their patrol was hit by roadside bombs.
Following a round of calls to Iraqi leaders by US President George W Bush, Shia 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 bombing if the Samara 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.
Shia local community leaders in Baghdad said several hundred Shias had fled homes in the capital’s restive Sunni suburb of Abu Ghraib and were being housed temporarily in schools and other buildings in Shia neighbourhoods.
Jaafari 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 Shias,” he said.
The White House said Bush, in his calls to Baghdad, had encouraged the leaders to “continue to work together to thwart the efforts of the perpetrators of the violence to sow discord”. reuters/afp