The violence, the latest in a week-long surge of reprisal attacks following the destruction of the Askariya Shiite shrine in Samarra, brought to 379 the number of people killed in sectarian violence in the last week, the Iraqi Cabinet said, according to the Associated Press. Another 479 have been wounded.
A majority of the violence has targeted Sunni mosques and officials.
Despite comments from U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad downplaying civil war concerns — “I think the country came to the brink of a civil war, but the Iraqis decided that they didn’t want to go down that path and came together,” he told CNN on Monday — the surge in violence has rattled Iraqi leaders struggling to form a new government.
On Tuesday, national security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie traveled to the Shiite holy city of Najaf to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite community’s most influential leader.
“The way to forming the government is difficult and planted with political bombs,” al-Rubaie said after the meeting. “We ask the Iraqi people to be patient, and we expect forming the government will take a few months.”
President Bush, speaking in Washington, denounced the latest violence and said for Iraqis “the choice is chaos or unity.”
As politicians continued their work and the trial of ousted former dictator Saddam Hussein resumed in Baghdad, insurgents carried out a series of attacks.
In the Shiite area of New Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt as he stood in line at a crowded gas station. The explosion killed 23 people and injured 51, Interior Ministry official Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi told the AP.
Nearby, a car bomb targeting a police patrol killed nine people and wounded 17, the AP reported. Another four people died and 16 were wounded when a second car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in the Karada neighborhood in southeastern Baghdad.
In the eastern Zaiyona neighborhood, a ministry spokesman said five Iraqi soldiers died and seven others were wounded when a roadside bomb meant for a Defense Ministry convoy detonated, the AP reported.
Also Tuesday, U.S. military officials said small-arms fire west of Baghdad killed an American soldier, bringing to 2,292 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq since the war began.
Iraqi officials also reported the deaths of two British soldiers who died in a car bomb attack in the town of Amarah, 180 miles south of Baghdad.
The grizzly discovery of nine bullet-riddled bodies, including the body of influential Sunni Sheik Hamid Irbat Ghazi, off a road southeast of Baghdad Tuesday capped the day’s violence.
Leaders from Iraq’s various religious and ethnic groups have appealed for calm in the country.