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Iraq Transition

Six Sunni mosques targeted after blast at Samarra shrine

Story Highlights

NEW: Six Sunni mosques apparently targeted after Al-Askariya Mosque bombing
• Bush urges "all Iraqis to refrain from acts of vengeance"
Pentagon says Iraq violence has moved, hasn't decreased
• Two minarets destroyed at revered Shiite shrine in Samarra
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Apparent retaliatory attacks in the aftermath of the bombing of the Al-Askariya Mosque -- a major Shiite shrine in Samarra -- have left six Sunni mosques badly damaged, police said Thursday.

Much of the violence has been directed at Sunni mosques in Babil province, south of Baghdad, where Hilla police said militia members staged bombings at three mosques -- two in Iskandariya and one in Khan al-Mahawil.

On Wednesday, Police reported the torching of a Sunni mosque in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, gunfire in Shiite neighborhoods in the capital, and the bombings of two Sunni mosques in Iskandariya.

The bombing of the Shiite Al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra destroyed two towers. The same holy site was attacked in February 2006, causing the top of the mosque's dome to collapse. That attack sparked Iraq's current wave of deadly Shiite-Sunni violence.

There was no immediate word on casualties in the city north of Baghdad.

Authorities said they believe Sunni insurgents hit the mosque. At the Pentagon, Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey said that "it clearly seems to me to be a signature attack of al Qaeda."

After the blast in Samarra, gunmen stormed a Sunni mosque in southwestern Baghdad's Bayaa area, a Shiite neighborhood, an Interior Ministry official said. Gunmen forced two guards to leave the Khudhair al-Janabi mosque before they burned it, the official said.

Bush: 'Barbarous act'

President Bush condemned the mosque bombing and urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to "turn this moment of tragedy into opportunity," the White House said Wednesday.

National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush called al-Maliki after the attack.

"This barbarous act was clearly aimed at inflaming sectarian tensions among the peoples of Iraq and defeating their aspirations for a secure, democratic and prosperous country," Bush said in a statement released by the White House.

"I join Iraq's leaders in calling on all Iraqis to refrain from acts of vengeance and reject al Qaeda's scheme to sow hatred among the Iraqi people, and to instead join together in fighting al Qaeda as the true enemy of a free and secure Iraq."

To the south in Babil province, militia stormed the Iskandariya Grand Mosque, a Sunni mosque, and blew it up with explosives, police in Hilla said.

Another Sunni mosque in Iskandariya -- Abdullah al-Jabouri -- was attacked by militiamen, who used explosives to destroy its minarets.

Iraqi and U.S. authorities are imploring people to resist retaliation for the Samarra attack.

"We share in the outrage of the Iraqi people against this crime, and we call on all Iraqis to reject this call to violence," said a joint statement from Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq.

"We cannot allow these terrorists to work against the interests of the Iraqi people who are seeking peace and prosperity for all."

Within hours of the attacks, Iraqi state television announced that al-Maliki had imposed a curfew for Baghdad until further notice. Al-Maliki traveled to the shrine from Baghdad after learning of the bombing.

Gunfire and shootings were heard in at least four Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad -- Sadr City, Bayaa, Amil and Shula. The Iraqi Interior Ministry official said he believes the shootings resulted from people angered over the bombing of the mosque in Samarra.

Inside job suspected in Samarra blast

One U.S. military official said authorities have evidence the mosque bombing was an inside job, and 15 members of the Iraqi security forces have been arrested.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon told CNN's Karl Penhaul he thinks members of the Iraqi security forces guarding the site either assisted or directly took part in helping al Qaeda insurgents place and detonate explosives at the mosque's prayer-summoning towers, which are called minarets. (Watch the aftermath of the blast, which the U.S. general reportedly says is the work of al Qaeda insurgents Video)

"He told me there was no evidence at all that this was an attack using mortars or anything of the like and said, in his words, that this was an inside job," Penhaul said.

Mixon said an additional Iraqi army brigade will be sent to Samarra. So far, there have been no reports of sectarian clashes in the city.

A U.S. military spokesman, who would not comment on specific operations, said American forces "continue to conduct the operations we do normally."

A U.S. military official in northern Iraq told The Associated Press that Samarra appeared calm by Wednesday afternoon. (Interactive: More on why the mosque is revered)

The explosions rocked the town and blew billowing dust clouds into the air, store owner Imad Nagi told the AP.

"After the dust settled, I couldn't see the minarets anymore," Nagi told the AP. "So I closed the shop quickly and went home."

The blast followed clashes between gunmen and Iraqi National Police, who were guarding the holy site. During the firefight, the insurgents entered the mosque, also known as the Golden Dome, planted explosives around the minarets and detonated them.

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for three days of mourning to mark the destruction of the minarets, according to a statement.

"Let the next three days be mourning days, where we spread the black banners and a call to prayer and shouting God is great in our mosques, whether they are Sunnis or Shiites, and to organize peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins in order for everyone to witness that the only enemy of Iraq is the occupation and therefore everyone must demand its departure or a timetable of its occupation."

The anti-American cleric also said no rival Sunni Arab could have been responsible for the bombing, calling the development a "cursed American-Israeli scenario that aims to spread the turmoil and plant the hatred among the Muslim brethren."

Pentagon says violence moved after troop surge

Also on Wednesday, the Pentagon released a report saying that violence in Iraq has not decreased because of the Bush administration's increase in U.S. troops there, but violence has merely moved locations.

"Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" covers February to early May 2007, roughly from the beginning of the troop increase to the time when the last group of U.S. troops entered the country, the Pentagon said.

While attacks on Iraqi forces continue from al Qaeda, local Sunni tribes have banded together to fight off al Qaeda and are showing efforts to take back control of their regions, according to the report.

Since the last quarterly report, attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops and civilians rose 2 percent, and high-profile attacks by al Qaeda fighters, such as bombings of mosques and markets, have produced more casualties in Baghdad than murders by militias or other armed groups, the report says.

The number of suicide attacks across Iraq increased from 26 in January to 58 in March and continued at that level into April, it says. Additionally, attacks using armor-piercing explosively formed projectiles, (EFPs) were at an all-time high in April. U.S. commanders have said that EFPs are provided by Iranian paramilitary forces operating inside Iraq. Tehran has denied the accusation.

The report does not give an assessment on how well the troop buildup is working, saying only, "It is too early to assess the impact of the new approach."

Other developments

  • A roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier and wounded two others Tuesday while they were riding in a vehicle in southern Baghdad, the U.S. military said. A Marine also was killed Tuesday while in combat in Anbar province. On Monday, another roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier during combat in eastern Baghdad, the military said. The number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq war stands at 3,506. Seven civilian contractors of the Defense Department also have been killed in the war.
  • Coalition forces killed a suspected "senior terrorist leader" in the northern city of Mosul on Tuesday, the U.S. military said. He was identified as Kamal Jalil Bakr 'Uthman, also known as Sa'id Hamza, the al Qaeda in Iraq military emir of Mosul. The man had been detained by Iraq in August and released in April. According to intelligence reports, he "was planning a six-vehicle suicide bomb attack to avenge his detention."
  • Three Iraqi police were killed and five others were wounded Wednesday when a bomb exploded at a police station in Mandali, a predominantly Shiite Kurdish town in Diyala province near the Iranian border, Baquba police said. Mandali Police Chief Gen. Sobhi Bira was among those wounded.
  • CNN's Cal Perry, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Saad Abedine, Mike Mount and Paula Hancocks contributed to this report.

    Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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