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In Iraq, strict daytime curfew ordered

Gunmen killed dozens of civilians Thursday and dumped their bodies in a ditch as the government ordered a daytime curfew in Baghdad and three provinces to stem the sectarian violence that has left at least 114 dead since the bombing of a Shiite shrine.

Seven U.S. soldiers died in two roadside bombings north of the capital, and American military units in the Baghdad area were told to halt all but essential travel to avoid getting caught in demonstrations or roadblocks.

As the country careened to the brink of civil war, Iraqi state television announced the unusual daytime curfew, ordering people off the streets today in Baghdad and the nearby flashpoint provinces of Diyala, Babil and Salaheddin, where the shrine bombing took place.

Such a sweeping daytime curfew indicated the depth of fear within the government that the crisis could touch off a Sunni-Shiite civil war.

"This is the first time that I have heard politicians say they are worried about the outbreak of civil war," Kurdish elder statesman Mahmoud Othman said.

The biggest Sunni Arab bloc in Parliament said it was pulling out of talks on a new government until the national leadership apologizes for damage to Sunni mosques from reprisal attacks.

"It is illogical to negotiate with parties that are trying to damage the political process," said Tariq al-Hashimi, a leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front.

Most of the bloodshed has been concentrated in the capital, its surrounding provinces and the province of Basra, 340 miles to the southeast.

Among the victims was Atwar Bahjat, a widely known Sunni correspondent for the Arab satellite television station Al-Arabiya.

Gunmen in a pickup shouting "We want the correspondent!" killed Bahjat along with her cameraman and engineer while they were interviewing Iraqis about Wednesday's destruction of the famed golden dome of the Shiite shrine Askariya in her hometown of Samarra.

The bullet-riddled bodies of Bahjat and her two colleagues from the Wassan media company were found Thursday a few miles outside Samarra. All three were Sunni Arabs. It was unclear why they were targeted, although the station has a reputation as critical of the insurgency.

Shiite and Sunni leaders again appealed for calm Thursday after the attacks on Sunni mosques, and the number of violent incidents appeared to decline after the government extended the curfew.

Iraqi television said the curfew would extend until 4 p.m. today, preventing people from attending the week's most important Muslim prayer service. Officials feared mosques could be a target for attacks and a venue for stirring sectarian feelings.

President Bush said he appreciated the appeals for calm and called the shrine bombing "an evil act" aimed at creating strife.

Italy said Thursday that it was offering to rebuild the dome to help battle "fanaticism."

Despite strident comments from various Iraqi leaders, U.S. officials said they thought mainstream politicians understood the grave danger facing the country and would try to prevent civil war.

"We're not seeing civil war igniting in Iraq," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for the U.S. command.

Nevertheless, sectarian passions were running high.

A Shiite cleric was shot dead Thursday night in Tuz Khormato, a mostly Kurdish city 130 miles north of Baghdad, and another Sunni preacher was killed in the mostly Shiite city of Hillah 60 miles south of the capital.

Two Sunni mosques were burned Thursday in Baghdad and another in Mussayib to the south, police said. A Sunni was killed when gunmen fired on a mosque in Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Dozens of bodies were found Thursday dumped at sites in Baghdad and the Shiite heartland in southern Iraq, many of them with their hands bound and shot execution-style. They were thought to have been killed Wednesday night.

Although the violence appeared to be waning Thursday, the brutality did not.

The bodies of the 47 civilians, mostly men ages 20 to 50, were found early Thursday in a ditch near Baqubah. Police said the victims - Sunnis and Shiites - had apparently been stopped by gunmen, hauled from their cars and shot.

Fighting erupted in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, between Sunni gunmen and militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who were guarding a mosque. Two civilians were killed and five militiamen were wounded, police Capt. Rashid al-Samaraie said.

Workers at two U.S.-funded water treatment projects in Baghdad were told to stay home Thursday to avoid trouble. American officials ordered a lockdown in some locations within the Green Zone, home of U.S. and Iraqi government offices, after a few mortar shells exploded, causing no casualties.

Eight Iraqi soldiers and eight civilians were killed Thursday when a bomb hidden in a soup vendor's cart detonated in Baqubah, police said. At least 20 people were wounded in the blast. In Julula, 75 miles northeast of Baghdad, a parked car exploded, killing three civilians and injuring three others, police said.

After the sectarian attacks, Shiite and Sunni leaders blamed each other for the violence, with each side portraying itself as the victim.

The Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars said at least 168 Sunni mosques had been attacked, 10 imams killed and 15 abducted since the shrine attack. The Interior Ministry said it could only confirm figures for Baghdad, where it had reports of 19 mosques attacked, one cleric killed and one abducted.

Abdul-Salam al-Kubaisi, a spokesman for the Sunni association, blamed the violence on the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and other Shiite religious leaders who called for demonstrations against the shrine attack.

Sadr, the Shiite radical, told Al-Jazeera television from Iran that Sunnis should join Shiites in pledging not to kill fellow Muslims to distance themselves from takfiris - Sunni extremists who target Shiites.


Seven U.S. soldiers died in two roadside bombings.

The bodies of 47 civilians were found in a ditch.

The biggest Sunni Arab bloc in Parliament says it is pulling out of talks on a new government.

A daytime curfew is in effect until 4 p.m. today in Baghdad and three provinces.

Tens of thousands of Lebanese Shiites in Beirut protest the bombing of a shrine.