Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iraq Traffic Ban Brings Temporary Peace, as Religious Leaders Call for Calm

A one-day ban on automobile traffic in the Baghdad region has imposed an eery quiet on the Iraqi capital.

During Friday prayers, most religious leaders called for calm. But a sheikh in Samarra, the site of February's bombing of a Shi'ite shrine, has blamed the latest sectarian violence on outsiders.

The French news agency (Agence France Presse) reports that Sunni Sheikh Ahmed Hassan al-Taha, speaking in Samarra, blamed Jews and Iranians for the violence since February's bombing.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari had appealed to the nation's clerics to avoid inflammatory language during Muslim prayers.

Meanwhile, the U.S. commander in Iraq said Friday the latest crisis appears to have passed, but another major attack on a religious site could have a negative impact.

General George Casey, speaking to Pentagon reporters by video conference, said Iraqi security forces had allowed Shi'ite militias through checkpoints during the recent violence.

Before the traffic ban went into effect, gunmen killed at least 18 Shi'ite workers in a small town near Baghdad.

Meanwhile, a coalition of Sunni and Kurdish politicians has called on Iraq's Shi'ite prime minister to step down.

The politicians say Ibrahim al-Jaafari is an obstacle to political unity, but a spokesman for the Shi'ite bloc says it continues to back him for another term as prime minister.

The political jockeying comes as some Sunni leaders blame the Shi'ite-led government for failing to stop continuing violence in the war-torn country.

Iraq's political factions have been meeting to try and form a unity government.

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