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Iraq Transition

Sunni mosques hit after blast at Samarra shrine

Story Highlights

• Twenty-five bodies found in Baghdad
• Video shows execution of 14 hostages
• Nine Sunni mosques attacked after Al-Askariya Mosque bombing in Samarra
Thousands take to streets to protest latest attack on sacred Shiite shrine
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Attackers struck nine Sunni mosques in Baghdad and south of the Iraqi capital in the aftermath of Wednesday's bombing of Al-Askariya Mosque -- a major Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra, police said Thursday.

Baghdad authorities also reported finding 25 bodies in the city of people believed killed in sectarian violence.

Four people died in sectarian fighting in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Elsewhere, thousands across Iraq staged angry but peaceful demonstrations protesting the second bombing at the shrine, which also was struck and badly damaged in a February 2006 attack -- a major event that spawned widespread sectarian violence and population displacement in the country.

The latest attack, which destroyed two minarets at Askariya, sparked calls from officials across the globe and in the Salaheddin province city of Samarra for unity and calm.

"You are sons and grandsons of the two greatest imams who ever lived," said Salaheddin Gov. Hamed Hamoud Shekti in a public announcement Thursday from the Askariya Mosque. "Please stop the sabotage and destruction, and work on the aims and goals of the city."

Shekti, whose remarks were passed along in a U.S. military news release, was referring to the tombs of the 10th and 11th Shiite imams at the Askariya shrine. Those historic figures are Ali al-Hadi and his son Hassan al-Askari, who both died in the ninth century.

"We must condemn the bad actions of terrorists, and the sons of all tribes must come together and forgive each other," Shekti said. "We need to work for reconciliation. ... Shia and Sunni must work together for Iraq."

Much of the violence since Wednesday's strike came despite curfews and vehicle bans imposed in Baghdad and other regions. (Interactive: More on why the mosque is revered)

Basra police said the bombing sparked fighting between Sunnis and Shiites in the predominantly Shiite city Wednesday night, leaving four people dead and wounding six others.

Violence was directed at Sunni mosques in Baghdad and two provinces south of the capital -- Basra and Babil.

Hilla police said five mosques have been bombed in Babil province, three on Thursday and two on Wednesday.

In Basra, gunmen on Wednesday night attacked Al-Othman Sunni mosque with rocket-propelled grenades and destroyed its minaret.

Three other Sunni mosques in Basra were attacked by small-arms fire, causing minor damage.

Iraq's Interior Ministry and local police reported protests by Shiite demonstrators in about a dozen cities.

Thousands of angry Shiites on Thursday protested the bombing in eastern Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood.

The protesters carried banners, Iraqi flags and pictures of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his father. Al-Sadr has called for three days of mourning to mark the destruction of the two minarets at the Askariya shrine.

"We demand of our Sunni brothers help us rebuild Askariya Shrine," one of the banners said.

Shouting "No, no for the devil" and "Yes, yes for unity," the crowd marched to al-Sadr's office.

Shiite demonstrations also were reported in Najaf, Kut and cities in Babil province, including Hilla.

Hundreds of Sunni and Shiite protesters peacefully took to the streets in Basra. They condemned the Samarra bombing and called for unity.

One U.S. military official said authorities have evidence Wednesday's bombing was an inside job.

The U.S. military said a commander and 12 police offers responsible for security at the time of the attack were arrested.

Authorities believe Sunni insurgents hit the mosque. There were no official reports of casualties in the attack. (Watch the aftermath of the blast Video)

Wednesday's strike started with fighting between gunmen and Iraqi National Police guarding the site.

Somehow, insurgents got into the site and detonated explosives around the remaining two minarets of the mosque, police in Samarra said.

Execution of 14 shown on video

A video showing the execution of 14 Iraqi security force members has appeared on the Internet.

The Islamic State of Iraq, a militant coalition that includes al Qaeda in Iraq, shows the execution of people who appeared in a hostage video this week.

The militants had promised to execute the men in three days if their demands to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki weren't met.

The men are shown blindfolded and kneeling, and a single masked gunman executes them one at a time at point-blank range with a pistol.

At the end of the clip, the gunman is shown reloading and beginning to make a second pass to ensure all are dead.

The video appears to be produced by Al Farqan Production Co., the entity that usually handles such tasks for militants.

The militants' demands included releasing Sunni women from Iraqi Interior Ministry prisons and handing over inmates involved in rapes and killings.

CNN can't confirm the authenticity of the video.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq, Saad Abedine, Octavia Nasr and Caroline Faraj contributed to this report.

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An Iraqi Shiite weeps as he takes part in a protest Thursday in Najaf against the attack on a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra.

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SPECIAL REPORT

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