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Iraqi Sunni Muslims Vow Revenge for Mosque Attack - 2003-12-10

In the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, angry Sunni Muslims are vowing revenge for Tuesday's attack on a Sunni mosque which killed three worshippers and wounded another. The incident has raised the specter of sectarian violence in Iraq as the country moves toward self-rule.

U.S. Blackhawk helicopters kept a close watch on events in the Hurriyah neighborhood in Baghdad early Wednesday, as more than 1,000 Sunni Muslim mourners gathered near the damaged mosque for the funeral of the three men killed in the attack.

On Tuesday, a large bomb exploded outside the Ahbab al-Mustafa mosque, tearing apart one car and scorching another in the mosque's courtyard. Seconds later, witnesses say attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade into the mosque, leaving a gaping hole in the building.

Carrying the remains of the victims in coffins, many of the mourners cried out for revenge.

Even though it is not yet clear who carried out the attack, Sunnis here say they are convinced that several Shi'ite militias and their leaders on the U.S.-appointed Governing Council are responsible for the violence.

The cleric who leads prayers at the mosque, Sheik Ahmad Dabbash says militiamen close to council members Ahmed Chalabi and Abdel Aziz al-Hakim have recently been seen conducting surveillance around the mosque.

The sheik says he is certain that Shi'ite militias are behind this attack and a number of other attacks on Sunni mosques in the capital. He says he believes Shiite leaders are ordering the attacks to terrorize the Sunnis as payback for the years the country's majority Shiites suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.

Saddam and his Sunni-dominated Baath Party brutally repressed the Shi'ites during the party's three decade-long rule. Following a failed Shi'ite uprising in 1991, Saddam had hundreds of thousands of Shiites killed and their bodies dumped into mass graves across Iraq.

Coalition officials say there is no evidence to suggest vengeful Shi'ites are coordinating attacks against Sunnis in Baghdad or anywhere else in Iraq.

But dozens of Sunni mourners at the funeral Tuesday brandished automatic weapons and spoke openly of assassinating their Shi'ite enemies.

Speaking outside the mosque, a local Sunni leader, Haith Sulaiman Dhari, desperately appealed for calm.

My dearest brothers, Mr. Dhari calls out, do not accuse anyone we have no evidence against. The people who attacked us are criminals. Do not let them shatter the hope of peace that all Iraqis now deserve, he says.