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Gunmen kill 3 in Iraq mosque attack

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Gunmen dressed as Iraqi police commandos attacked a Sunni mosque in a western Baghdad neighborhood late Saturday, killing three mosque guards and wounding six others in an hour-long gunfight, police said.

An official with Baghdad emergency police said the attack occurred around 11:30 p.m. local time at the al-Noor Sunni mosque in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Al-Jihad in western Baghdad.

The attackers and mosque guards exchanged gunfire for about an hour, with people in the neighborhood rushing to help the guardsmen battle their attackers, the official said.

In other violence, two people -- a cousin and a nephew of Sheik Harith al-Dhari, the head of the Association of Muslim Scholars -- were killed Sunday when gunmen opened fire on a minibus on a road in western Baghdad, police said.

The imam of another Sunni mosque was wounded in the attack, which occurred around 2 p.m. (6 a.m. ET), an official with Baghdad emergency police said.

The attacks are the latest in the string of sectarian violence that has erupted since the February 22 bombing of the Al-Askariya Mosque -- one of the holiest shrines for Shia Muslims.

The violence has left more than 500 people dead, and prompted fears that the country is on the verge of civil war.

The violence coincided with the Baghdad visit of Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. Central Command chief of military operations in the Middle East. During meetings with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and President Jalal Talabani, he appealed for a national unity government, saying it was imperative to bring the country together. And he urged Iraqi people to remain united.

Abizaid said multinational forces must work with Iraqi forces against terrorists to prevent Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda chief in Iraq, and his group from disrupting democratic efforts in the country.

Al-Jaafari said, "The real danger for Iraq is terrorism terrorizing Iraqis, terrorizing the country's holy sites, natural resources and the political process."

Talabani said he gained assurances that U.S. forces would remain in the country as long as needed "no matter what the time period."

Abizaid and Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, are to brief U.S. lawmakers and Pentagon officials in Washington on the situation in Iraq.

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