Dozens killed after Baghdad lifts curfew

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The Independent Online

Mortars slammed into crowded Baghdad neighbourhoods, killing 18 people and injuring dozens, as security measures were eased in the capital after the bombing of a revered Shia shrine and a wave of bloody sectarian violence.

At least nine others victims, including two teenage boys playing football in Baqouba, were killed in other attacks yesterday.

A 24-hour transport ban remained in effect in Baghdad and its suburbs as authorities tried to halt the violence that has claimed nearly 200 lives since the Shia Askariya shrine was destroyed in Samarra on Wednesday. But traffic restrictions were lifted in the strife-prone provinces of Diyala, Babil and Salahuddin, where the shrine was located.

At least seven mortar rounds hit in a Shia enclave of Dora, a predominantly Sunni Arab district and one of the most dangerous parts of the city. Eighteen people were reported killed and at least 45 injured.

Britain's former ambassador to Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, warned that the country was slipping into a state of low-level civil war, with the conflict pitting rival ethnic and religious groups against each other. The sectarian fighting, he said, bore a resemblance to ethnic cleansing in some parts of the country.

"One could almost call it a low-level civil war already," Sir Jeremy told the Jonathan Dimbleby programme on ITV1.

Although he did not believe that a "classic civil war" would follow, he said he feared local communities would look to militias for protection, ignoring the central authorities.

"The unity of the country, the forward progress of the country would be lost," Sir Jeremy said. "There are elements of ethnic cleansing, getting a minority community out of an area so that the majority community can take over, in certain parts of Iraq."

As night fell, there were more explosions in Baghdad. The two teenagers died when gunmen stepped from a car and fired on them in a Shia-Sunni mixed neighbourhood northeast of the capital. Another group of football players found three bodies in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. The victims had been handcuffed, blindfolded and shot in the head and chest, according to police.

President George Bush spoke with seven leaders of Shia, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political parties on Saturday in an attempt to get a new government back on track.AP