The deaths of over 400 Iraqis on Thursday and Friday renewed fears that that the sectarian violence will ripen into a full-blown civil war. Efforts to tamper attacks met with limited success as Shi’ite militiamen ignored an indefinite curfew in order to pay back Sunnis for Thursday’s mass attack in Sadr City.
Six Sunni men were doused with kerosene and set aflame as Iraqi soldiers watched. A child and two women died of smoke inhalation in their burning homes. The Abu Hanifa mosque, an important Sunni shrine, suffered severe damage to its dome as mortars rained upon it. Machine-gun fire rang throughout Baghdadi streets as bullets searched for fresh victims. All of it in retaliation for a deadly attack in Sadr City yesterday.
The attack on Thursday produced the largest, single casualty count since Coalition forces occupied Iraq in 2003. At least 215 people died in Sadr City alone and 257 more were injured. Several car bombs and mortars exploded in the Shi’ite slum in a coordinated attack which began Thursday afternoon at about 3:00 p.m.
Retaliatory strikes on Sunni targets began almost immediately. Neighborhoods such as Hurriyah and Adhamiyah were attacked within hours, bringing dozens more deaths. Even U.S. forces were dragged into the fighting when helicopters destroyed a site in Sadr City where Katyusha rocket attacks were believed to be originating. Witnesses claimed that it was actually a ritual shooting at a funeral instead.
Prior to the Sadr City attack, Sunni gunmen attempted to storm the Shiite-dominated Health Ministry in northern Baghdad. But the tit for tat attacks between members of the two Muslim sects have been going on for months. In February, the Golden Mosque in Samarra was severely damaged. The shrine contained the graves of two important 9th-century Shi’ite Imams. It was this attack which many analysts conclude has lead to the increased violence.
More attacks on Shi’ite sites in Tal Afar killed at least 22 people. In Baghdad the daily search for dumped bodies netted at least 30 victims. More violence is expected, especially after curfews are removed.
In the midst of all the savagery, President Bush condemned the attacks and promised to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki next week. However, followers of Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have threatened to pull out of the Iraqi cabinet and parliament should the meeting occur. Still, other political and religious leaders have called for restraint as everyone waits for the next attack they know will come
Compiled from wire service reports