Sectarian violence stalks Iraq on holy day
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi leaders attempted Thursday to stop sectarian violence that has escalated since a revered Shiite shrine was bombed in Samarra, prompting widespread reprisals against Sunnis.
The United States joined Iraqi leaders in urging calm, and despite Sunni Arabs boycotting talks on a new unity government, an American envoy said he is confident the tensions will pass.
A curfew was imposed Thursday evening in Baghdad and three surrounding provinces. Under the curfew, which began at 6 p.m., no one is allowed in the streets. (A country struggling to stay together -- 2:38)
The curfew, which bars people from entering the streets, could stir even more controversy because it will remain in effect through Friday's noon Muslim prayers -- the most sacred prayers of the week for followers.
"Once we get past the immediate repercussions of yesterday's violence, we will see things stabilize again," said Robert Ford, political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
The most powerful Sunni Muslim party quit talks to form a new government Thursday after Sunnis were attacked -- and many killed --following the bombing of Samarra's Al-Askariya Mosque, known as the Golden Mosque.
Members of the Sunni Accord Front met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari before the announcement.
Talabani called on his countrymen to extinguish the "flames of division," and President Bush denounced the mosque attack as "an evil act." A U.S. military spokesman said the bombing bears "the signature" of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The Accord Front received 44 seats in December's elections for the 275-member Iraqi parliament and has been working with Kurds, Shiites and other Sunnis to cobble together a government. (Watch enraged Iraqis after bombing of the Golden Mosque -- 1:51)
Including Sunnis in the government is seen as key to establishing law and order and defeating Iraq's insurgency, whose supporters are largely Sunnis. Shiites were largely persecuted by ruling minority Sunnis during the reign of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Southeast of Baghdad, both Sunnis and Shiites joined to protest the bombing and reprisal attacks Thursday in the town of Kut, police said. Thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets saying that they were "all Iraqis."
Earlier, the U.S. military said seven U.S. soldiers were killed in two roadside bombings north of Baghdad on Wednesday.
Four soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, were killed near Hawija.
Three Task Force Band of Brothers Soldiers from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, were killed near Balad.
Their deaths brought the number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war to 2,285, according to military reports.
'Thumbprints of terrorists'
U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told reporters in Baghdad that the mosque attack is being investigated, but said the military is "absolutely convinced the thumbprints of terrorists are all over this."
"It's clearly the signature of Zarqawi and terrorists and foreign fighters," Lynch said.
He praised the Iraqi government's "capable" leadership in reaction to the violence, such as enforcing curfews, calling for calm, recalling security forces on leave, and increasing security around shrines and political buildings.
He said coalition forces have been deployed in reaction to the violence, "but they are not in the lead."
Bush: Bombing 'evil act'
President Bush, speaking Thursday at a Cabinet meeting, reiterated U.S. resolve to help Iraq rebuild the holy site.
"Voices of reason in all aspects of Iraqi life understand that this bombing is intended to create civil strife," Bush said, adding that the "act was an evil act. The destruction of a holy site is a political act intending to create strife."
Talabani, speaking to reporters, urged all parties in Iraq to agree on the need to have a government of national unity that can work toward keeping peace and fighting terrorism.
"If the flames of division get enraged, God forbid, they won't help anyone," Talabani said. "No one will be spared. Putting those flames out is a sacred duty of all Iraqis and a must in order to achieve a unified democratic Iraq."
At least 54 Sunnis are believed to have been killed since the Golden Mosque bombing, including imams, worshippers and bystanders, according to police figures.
Separately, the bodies of 47 unidentified people who had been shot to death were found Thursday southeast of Baquba.
While reporting on the Samarra attack, three journalists for Al-Arabiya television, including a female correspondent, were kidnapped and killed, police and the Arabic-language channel said. (Full story)
Also Thursday, an explosion killed 16 people and wounded 20 others in Baquba. Five people were killed and 10 others were wounded in another Baquba blast that's suspected of being a suicide bombing.
And Iraqi police found six bodies Thursday -- all presumed to be Sunni -- in the Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad.
The U.S. military said Thursday that "about 95 male detainees were released" during the past several days. The Iraqi-led Combined Review and Release Board has reviewed the cases of "more than 28,500 detainees" and recommended release for more than 14,900 of them. There was no word on female detainees.
Kidnappers holding American journalist Jill Carroll since January 7 have threatened to kill her unless U.S. and Iraqi authorities free all female detainees. The latest deadline announced by Carroll's abductors is Sunday.
Also Thursday, ABC News reported that photographer Doug Vogt has been discharged from a hospital and anchor Bob Woodruff is making "good progress" nearly a month after they were seriously wounded by a roadside bomb.
In an e-mail sent Thursday to ABC employees, President David Westin wrote, "Despite the fact that he continues to be mildly sedated, Bob has been out of bed in a chair, and his physical strength continues to impress his entire team."
Meanwhile, Vogt, 46, was released from the brain injury center at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where Woodruff is receiving treatment. He was heading home to France with his wife, Westin wrote.
CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Arwa Damon contributed to this report.
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