Iraqi Curfew Extended as Unrest Persists
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Sectarian attacks continue in Iraq, despite the extension of a daytime curfew in Baghdad and surrounding areas. Violence between Shia and Sunnis erupted this week following the bombing of the Golden Mosque, a Shiite shrine in the Northern city of Samarra on Wednesday.
Well, more than 200 people have been killed so far. Iraqi political and clerical leaders have called for restraint, but fear a slide into civil war. NPR's Anne Garrels joins us from Baghdad. Anne, thanks for being with us.
ANNE GARRELS reporting:
I'm delighted to be with you.
SIMON: Sketch for us, please, what's happening there today in the capital.
In Iraq in general, I'd say that for instance in Ba'qubah, a predominantly Sunni town, gunmen burst into a house and killed at least 12 members of a Shiite family. A car bomb exploded in the center of the Shiite city of Karbala, the site of revered shrines, killing at least four and wounding dozens of others.
In Baghdad, gunmen have attacked more Sunni mosques, including a revered shrine. The police say the assailants wore the typical black clothing of Shiite militias, and 14 police commandos were killed in clashes. The head of the leading Sunni Muslim religious organization here in Baghdad says his house was attached by men he calls government troops. And the funeral convoy for the al-Arabia reporter who was killed earlier in the week was attached as it headed to a Sunni cemetery on the outskirts of the capital, and several security guards were killed.
These are just the most dramatic incidents, Scott. In some mixed neighborhoods here in Baghdad, armed men, presumably Shiites, have been going house to house seeking out Sunni men, and terrified Sunnis are asking their Shiite friends and neighbors to protect and harbor them.
SIMON: And are there instances in which Shiites are actually helping their Sunni neighbors?
GARRELS: Absolutely. Let me give you an instance of mutual sort of support and cooperation in one mixed neighborhood. Groups of Shiites are standing outside Sunni houses to protect them. And a popular Sunni cigarette seller was killed in another neighborhood. And the Shiites went to his funeral to show they did not support those who were trying to drive a wedge between people.
SIMON: We noted that the curfew, of course, that's been in effect. What other measures have been taken to try and tamp down or rein in the violence?
GARRELS: Well, the curfew now, which was imposed on Thursday, has now been extended until tomorrow. That means no cars in the capital. There's no traffic in or out of Baghdad. And there are increased police checkpoints. But in some areas, there's no security at all. According to U.S. officials, American forces have stepped up their patrols and are working closely with the Iraqis. But American troops are not highly visible at the moment.
SIMON: Now of course this outbreak of violence occurs as, and perhaps even in response to, the efforts to try and form a coalition government. Are Sunni and Shiite leaders talking? Is it difficult for them to sit down and talk with each other now?
GARRELS: There are not direct talks at the moment. The Kurds, led by President Talabani, are trying to act as intermediaries between the Sunni and the Shia, but because of the curfew, in part, there are no talks.
And while both Sunni and Shiite politicians are publicly urging restraint, those very same people continue to blame each other for the violence. Neither side has made any sort of apology for the attacks. And leading Shiite Imams yesterday basically said Sunni politicians are really nothing more than terrorists. And in an ominous development, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's ability to broker talks has been set back, the Shiites are now accusing him of supporting the Sunnis.
SIMON: NPR's Anne Garrels, in Baghdad. Thank you.