Friday, September 29, 2006

Baghdad, Iraq Under Curfew

Iraq's government shut down the capital with a one-day curfew on Saturday, ordering all cars and pedestrians off the streets, but giving no reason for the measure. The curfew would remain in place until 6:00 a.m. (0200) on Sunday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office said in a one- line statement. The U.S. military did not comment. The announcement came after a week of clashes and bombings heralded the start of the holy month of Ramadan. U.S. commanders say the past week saw a record number of suicide bombings and the last two weeks have seen a surge in violence. Although no explanation was given for the curfew, residents of the Adamiya neighborhood in the north of the capital said they heard gunfire and explosions near dusk on Friday.U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched a seven-week-old security crackdown in the capital, targeting scattered neighborhoods for sweeps. But Sunni and Shi'ite sectarian militia have clashed in several parts of the city over recent days. The Ramadan holy month began a week ago with a massive bomb in a Shi'ite neighborhood that killed at least 34 people. A Sunni militant group claimed responsibility for that attack and said it was revenge for killings by Shi'ite death squads. The curfew comes a day after gunmen killed the brother-in- law of the chief judge in former leader Saddam Hussein's genocide trial and badly wounded his sister and nephew. It was at least the fourth killing closely connected to the U.S.-sponsored court, following those of three defense lawyers, and will raise new questions about its ability to conduct fair trials in a nation on the verge of sectarian civil war. "This was purposely and intentionally from groups which are connected to Saddam," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters, adding that he expected judge Mohammed al-Ureybi nonetheless to continue presiding over the trial which he took over last week.The government sacked his predecessor for saying Saddam was "not a dictator." Police said two officers were killed on Friday in clashes in Baghdad's violent southern Dora district. A Sunni tribal leader was killed by gunmen in the same area. Some tribal sheikhs have become targets for militants, especially following a deal this week by tribes in western Anbar province to take on al Qaeda alongside government forces. The tribes captured five militants in the Anbar province capital Ramadi on Friday, including three foreign fighters from Yemen, police and tribal leaders said. The U.S. commander in Ramadi, Colonel Sean MacFarland, hailed the tribes' action. He said his troops' mission was not to defeat the insurgency but to reduce violence to a manageable level, allowing Iraqi security forces to take over. Attacks on U.S. and Iraqi government forces in Ramadi had fallen to 15 a day from 20 a few months ago, he told reporters in the Pentagon by video link, adding much more had to be done.