Daytime curfew brings quiet to Baghdad
Security measure imposed day after attacks killed more than 40
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The usually bustling Baghdad was eerily quiet most of Friday with shops closed and streets deserted as authorities enforced a daytime vehicular curfew.
With fears of full-blown civil war gripping Iraq, the capital was sealed off, cars were prohibited from entering, and all but the most official vehicles banned from traveling between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Iraqi soldiers and police used the daytime curfew to try to prevent sectarian attacks against mosques and worshippers on the weekly Muslim holy day.
The curfew ended at 4 p.m. amid heavy security and will go into effect again starting at 8 p.m. It is unknown whether the vehicle ban will be enforced Saturday.
The move to clamp down on violence comes as gunmen attacked two brick factories east of the capital Thursday night, killing at least 19 workers, and also targeted a power station in Nahrawan, a mostly Shiite area 16 miles (25 kilometers) east of Baghdad, authorities said. At the power station, the gunmen wounded two guards and knocked out electricity in the city, a police official said.
The night of carnage raised Thursday's death toll to at least 41. Bombings and shooting assaults included an attack on a convoy carrying top Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi, one of whose guards was killed. Four others were wounded, but al-Dulaimi escaped injury. (Full story)
At least 500 people have died in sectarian violence since the February 22 bombing of Al-Askariya Mosque, also known as the Golden Mosque, the revered Shiite shrine in Samarra north of the capital.
At a Pentagon briefing Friday, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey, said Iraqi security forces responded well to the sectarian strife, "moving to full alert and to securing key sites."
But Casey said the government must deal urgently with the problem of militias, namely the Mehdi Army of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The military thinks militias "were primarily responsible for the attacks against the mosques in the Baghdad area," he said. "And we continue to follow up on the information that we have on these with the Iraqi security forces."
The death toll and mosque bombing figures cited by Casey were lower than those tallied by Iraqi officials. The military confirmed about 30 mosque attacks and about 350 civilian deaths, according to Casey. Besides citing at least 150 more deaths than the Americans, local officials also report more than 100 mosque attacks.
Even so, Casey said, the number of deaths is "unacceptable and something that we and the Iraqi transitional government and security forces continue to work hard to prevent."
Casey's briefing -- a task usually handled by other commanders -- signaled the magnitude of recent events. Casey said he hadn't made up his mind when pressed about how the violence might affect U.S. troop levels, now around 136,000.
"It's been a difficult few days" but "now it appears that the crisis has passed," he said.
Al-Jaafari nomination under fire
The nomination of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, to remain prime minister in Iraq's new government remains under fire.
Kurdish, Sunni and secular politicians want the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, which won the December 15 parliamentary election, to reconsider its choice of al-Jaafari, citing what they say is his poor performance. His tenure over the last year has been marked by a potent Sunni-led insurgency, Interior Ministry actions against Sunnis, economic problems and spotty essential services.
If the Shiite-led coalition, which has been running the country with the Kurdish alliance, fails to pick a new nominee and sticks with al-Jaafari, several parties say they may form a new coalition to challenge the United Iraqi Alliance. They are waiting to hear from the leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, on the matter.
His nominee, Adel Abdul Mehdi, lost to Al-Jaafari, leader of the Dawa Party, by one vote.
Iraq's parliament, known as the Council of Representatives, must hold its first session on March 12. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the 275-member body, said Friday it is planning to meet that deadline.
U.N. appeals for Palestinian refugees
Palestinian refugees living in Iraq are in a "very precarious position," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees warned Friday.
The U.N. refugee agency said it has received reports within the last week that up to 10 Palestinians have been killed and several kidnapped.
"[Baghdad's] Palestinian neighborhood of Baladeyat was the scene of much violence recently until U.S. military forces intervened," the agency said in a news release.
As a result of the violence, many Palestinian families are relocating to Gaza, Syria and Jordan, the agency noted.
Some Iraqis "consider the Palestinians, Sunni Muslims, as enemies -- although they are not involved in internal strife," said the agency, adding that Saddam Hussein's former regime provided them "protection and assistance."
The Iraqi government estimates that at least 34,000 Palestinians have come to Iraq in three waves since 1948 and that about 23,000 were registered in Baghdad after the U.S.-led war started in 2003.
CNN's Aneesh Raman and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.
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