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Iraqi Cleric Calls on Followers to Defend Against Attacks


An influential Shi'ite cleric in Iraq is urging followers to defend Shi'ite communities after a series of blasts killed at least 69 people throughout Iraq Friday.

The most deadly attacks targeted Shi'ite neighborhoods and mosques in Baghdad's Sadr city, where a movement led by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is based.

Sadr released a statement late Friday calling on his followers to form brigades within the police force and army to defend their places of worship, homes and communities. Sadr said they must not rely on U.S. forces in Iraq to defend themselves.

Mourners began burying their dead on Saturday and the Sadrist movement called for a three-day mourning period.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Iraqi officials blamed the Sunni-led extremist group, al-Qaida in Iraq. The bombings took place five days after Iraqi officials announced two of the group's top leaders had been killed.

Violence in the Iraqi capital began rising after parliamentary elections in March. No clear winner emerged from the polls and it could take months for rival factions to form a coalition government.

Authorities fear the country's uncertain political future is fueling renewed insurgent and sectarian violence.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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