At least 60 die on another day of sectarian killing

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The Independent Online

Sectarian violence continued to wreak havoc in Iraq as a series of car bombs, suicide attacks and mortar barrages killed at least 60 people. At the same time it was claimed that up to 1,300 people may have died in sectarian violence triggered by last week's destruction of one of the country's holiest Shia shrines, although the government put out a statement to insist that the death toll was much lower.

Two explosions hit north Baghdad, killing at least 15 people and wounding 72. Police said a car bomb hit the Abdel Hadi Chalabi mosque in the Hurriyah district. Mortar fire at the Imam Kadhim shrine in the Kazimiyah neighbourhood killed one and wounded 10.

Earlier in the day police said that 23 people were killed by a bomb in a petrol station in east Baghdad and that at least seven died in two other explosions. Almost 120 people were injured.

One of the explosions wrecked a Sunni mosque in Tikrit where Saddam Hussein's father is buried. The deposed leader's trial resumed in Baghdad yesterday with prosecutors presenting documents said to prove that he had approved the execution of more than 140 Shias in 1984.

It was reported that 1,300 people were killed by the violence triggered by the bombing of the Shia shrine in Samarra. Officials at Baghdad's morgue said it had dealt with hundreds of corpses. The figure of 1,300 is at least three times higher than reported by the US military and was disputed by the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister, which issued a statement saying that 379 people had been killed over six days. It denied reports in the Washington Post that the death toll had passed 1,000. The bombings underline the failure of Iraqi security forces and US troops to provide security for ordinary people. Last week the outgoing head of the UN's human rights mission in Iraq, John Pace, said that up to three-quarters of bodies in Baghdad's mortuary had been executed or showed signs of torture. He blamed death squads controlled by the Interior Ministry.

Mr Pace said the lack of security was part of a vicious circle that helped to feed sectarian violence. In the absence of any other security forces, ordinary citizens were looking to extremist groups to offer protection.

President George Bush side-stepped questions about plans for a troop withdrawal from Iraq, as a poll showed that nearly one in four Americans believed the US soldiers should pull out. He also said nothing of US responsibility for maintaining order. Instead he suggested that Iran was behind much of the latest violence and said people had a choice between "chaos or unity".

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador in Iraq, warned that further flare-ups were possible and said that Iraq had reached "the brink of civil war". The apparently co-ordinated attacks have scotched all hopes of the early formation of a national unity government that would bring the Shia community into a cabinet with the minority Sunnites.

The bomb attack in Samarra on Wednesday last week plunged Iraq into the worst week of sectarian violence since April 2003. Within two daysmore than 200 had been reported killed. North of Baghdad, 47 men were taken out of their vehicles and shot. Numerous bodies, many with their hands tied, were found riddled with bullets in Baghdad and Basra. On Sunday, more than 30 were killed, including a group of teenagers shot dead as they played football.

A week of escalating violence

WEDNESDAY 22 FEBRUARY Dawn bomb attack on Samarra's Golden Mosque plunges Iraq into the worst week of sectarian violence since April 2003.

THURSDAY More than 130 reported killed since the violence began and 184 mosques attacked. North of Baghdad, 47 men are taken out of their vehicles and shot. Numerous bodies, many with their hands tied, are found riddled with bullets in East Baghdad and Basra.

FRIDAY An emergency curfew helps quell violence, but followers of Muqtada al-Sadr ignore it. More than 200 people are now reported dead.

SATURDAY Sectarian violence reignites, killing over 40, as Sunni and Shia leaders make joint pleas for a halt to four days of bloodshed. George Bush calls Iraqis leaders to persuade them to halt the violence.

SUNDAY More than 30 are killed, including a group of teenagers shot dead as they play football. A mortar attack kills 15 people and shooting erupts near two Baghdad mosques.

MONDAY Government lifts curfew amid relative lull in fighting but more than 20 people die in clashes. Baghdad morgue officials say up to 1,300 have died in recent fighting.

YESTERDAY A series of bombs kill more than 50 people across Iraq and destroy the tomb of Saddam Hussein's father.

Jerome Taylor