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3 Iraqi Civilians Killed in Baghdad Mosque Blast - 2003-12-09

U.S. military officials in Baghdad say an apparent suicide bomber has wounded at least 58 American soldiers near the tense northern city of Mosul. Meanwhile, an explosion at a mosque in Baghdad is reported to have killed three Iraqi civilians.

A U.S. military spokesman says a car packed with explosives ran through a checkpoint without stopping and headed toward an Army compound near Mosul early Tuesday. Gunners opened fire on the vehicle, which then exploded. Broken glass and shrapnel flew everywhere, and most of the injuries were caused by flying debris.

The spokesman says all of the wounded are attached to the 101st Airborne Division, and none of the injuries is life-threatening. The attack took place in the town of Tall Afar, about 50 kilometers west of Mosul. The region has seen a steady flow of attacks on US. forces over the last month, after experiencing a sharp increase in late October.

In a separate incident later in the day, officials say another suicide bomber walked up to a military facility near Baghdad and blew himself up. The blast killed only the bomber, and one unconfirmed report says it lightly wounded two soldiers.

Earlier in the capital, an explosion rocked a Sunni mosque in the Hurriyah neighborhood. The imam of a neighboring mosque, who is the senior religious leader in Hurriyah, told VOA the blast killed and wounded several people.

It is not clear what caused the explosion, but it left a gaping hole in the wall of the mosque, and it started a fire that destroyed several nearby cars and a generator. A crowd of angry, tearful mourners had gathered around the compound by mid-day, and tension was running high.

Neither the Iraqi police nor the U.S. military have said anything about who might be behind the blast. But the imam, Ahmed Dabash, blamed several Shi'ite groups, citing a list of Sunni religious sites that have been attacked around the country in recent weeks. Whoever is responsible for the blast in Hurriyah, Imam Dabash says the incident will exacerbate the growing hostility between Iraq's Sunni and Shi'ite communities.

The imam says, attacking the mosque, attacking our Sunni brothers at prayer is the surest way to spark a sectarian conflict.

Shi'ite leaders say they have been targeted for assassination as well, and they blame the Sunnis.

The sectarian gap is clearly growing in Iraq, where 60 percent of the population are Shi'ite Muslims who were often brutally oppressed over the last century under the rule of mainly Sunni leaders, including Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Dabash says Iraq's religious leaders need to find a way to solve the problems between Sunnis and Shi'ites before the cycle of violence spirals out of control. He says the people have no patience anymore. The young people, the Sunni people, are going to explode.

The imam also cautioned the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S.-led coalition authorities to be careful about religious affiliations of the paramilitary force that is reported to be in the planning stages. The paramilitary program has not been formally announced, but officials reportedly want to use the well-trained existing militias affiliated with various religious and ethnic groups to help restore law and order to Iraq. But the imam fears the official sanctioning of the militia activity will lead to further conflict between sectarian groups.