|Boys walked near the bombed Golden Mosque Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, yesterday. Three Sunni Muslim mosques were burned south of Baghdad in apparent reprisal attacks after suspected Al Qaeda militants blew up the minarets of the Shi'ite shrine.|
Baghdad under security lockdown
Anticipated Shi'ite attacks prompt action
BAGHDAD -- A citywide clampdown emptied Baghdad's streets of all vehicles yesterday in attempts to hold off what authorities dread: a storm of Shi'ite attacks in revenge for the bombing of one of their main shrines.
The tactic appeared to keep a lid on widespread violence, but extremists fired shells into the city's protected Green Zone during a visit by the State Department's number two official.
The barrage of rockets and mortars included one that hit on a street close to the Iraq parliament less than a half-hour before Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte passed nearby.
The attack again showed militants' resilience -- including their ability to strike the heavily protected zone -- despite a US-led security crackdown across the city that began exactly four months ago. But officials paid much closer attention to any signs that Shi'ites could unleash another wave of retaliation against Sunnis for the Wednesday blasts at the Askariya mosque compound in Samarra.
The first attack on the site in February 2006 sent the country into a tailspin of sectarian violence that destroyed Washington's hopes of a steady withdrawal from Iraq. On Wednesday, bombers toppled the two minarets that stood over the ruins of the mosque's famous Golden Dome about 60 miles north of Baghdad.
The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, echoed Washington's view that the latest attack was the work of Al Qaeda.
"I just don't think there's any doubt that it was Al Qaeda that first struck the Askariya in February 2006, and the method this time was very similar to that -- (explosive) charges very carefully placed to devastating effect," Crocker told a group of reporters.
Negroponte called the Samarra attack a "deliberate attempt by Al Qaeda to sow dissent and inflame sectarian strife among the people of Iraq."
The US military issued a statement yesterday saying Iraqi forces had arrested the commander and 12 policemen responsible for security at the shrine, which holds the tombs of two revered 9th century Shi'ite imams. It was not immediately clear whether the police arrested are suspects or being held for questioning.
Curfews and increased troop levels appeared to hold down retaliatory attacks. The vehicle ban was expected to last through tomorrow.
But it did not fully prevent Shi'ite anger from turning violent.
Four Sunni mosques near Baghdad were also attacked or burned within several hours of the Samarra bombings, police said.
Police in the southern city of Basra said yesterday that four people were killed and six wounded in attacks on at least four mosques there on Wednesday.
The Green Zone was repeatedly locked down as US radar picked up incoming rocket fire into the area, which contains the US and British embassies and many key Iraqi government buildings. Workers darted between US-occupied buildings in the sprawling region wearing flak jackets and helmets.
A senior military official said it was believed that some non-Americans had been killed or wounded. The official, who would not allow use of his name because the official report was not released, said there were no US casualties.
Officially, the US military said its radar detected five rockets aimed at the Green Zone. But a US soldier, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said at least a dozen rockets or mortars slammed into the zone.
Insurgents linked to Al Qaeda, meanwhile, released a videotape showing the execution-style deaths of 14 Iraqi soldiers and policemen after the expiration of a 72-hour deadline for the Iraqi government to meet their demands.
In a statement that preceded the video footage, the Islamic State of Iraq said its religious court "ruled that God's verdict should be implemented against the renegades" after its demands were not met. In an earlier video, the group demanded the release of all female prisoners in Iraqi prisons.