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Baghdad under curfew, government seeks unity
Updated: 2006-03-03 15:23

Iraqi troops and police patrolled the deserted streets of Baghdad on Friday after the government imposed a daytime traffic curfew to avert violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites on the Muslim day of prayer.

Iraqi policemen look at the wreckage of vehicles after a bomb attack in Baghdad, March 1, 2006.  [Reuters]

Embattled Shi'ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari warned clerics not to use "inflammatory" language from pulpits as he tried to rally Sunni and other leaders into a US-sponsored unity coalition to help staunch 10 days of sectarian bloodshed.

The main minority Sunni bloc ended a boycott of talks called in protest at reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques following the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine on February 22 -- violence has killed at least about 500 people, even by conservative official accounts.

But after Jaafari hosted a late-night meeting on Thursday of the main parties elected to parliament in December, political sources said Sunnis, Kurds and other leaders were still pushing the dominant Shi'ite Alliance to ditch Jaafari as premier.

"The negotiations will go on but we still insist on removing Jaafari," said a senior official in the Sunnis' Iraqi Accordance Front.

Front leader Adnan al-Dulaimi was at the talks at Jaafari's office after escaping a gun attack on his car. More than 20 other people died on Thursday, including a Sunni cleric and five killed by a bomb in a minibus in a Baghdad Shi'ite district.

Critics accuse Jaafari, a soft-spoken Islamist doctor, of being ineffectual in combating rebel violence and economic collapse in his year in power as interim prime minister. Some, including US officials, look askance at his ties to Iran.

He narrowly won the backing of his Shi'ite Alliance coalition to lead the new government with the crucial support of the cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr; as the biggest group in parliament, the Alliance nominates the prime minister.

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