Baghdad: Gunmen raided a small town near Baghdad and shot dead at least 19 people.
Police said yesterday it was a sectarian attack by Sunnis on Shiites, latest in a string of killings since a Shiite shrine was bombed last week.
Among the dead were Shiite migrant labourers shot down at a brick factory in a dusk raid on Thursday by a suspected Al Qaida-linked group. One local politician said at least 25 died, among them three children.
Hours after US and Iraqi troops forced the 50 or so gunmen to withdraw, the Iraqi government imposed a new daytime traffic curfew on Baghdad to avert clashes on the Muslim day of prayer after 10 days of sectarian violence that has killed hundreds.
Iraqi police and troops, some in Soviet-built tanks, blocked deserted streets, but US forces kept a low profile. American troops' hopes of going home soon have been in the balance since Iraq went to the brink of civil war over the past week.
Embattled Prime Minister Ebrahim Al Jaafari warned clergy against "inflammatory" language yesterday.
Fiery Shiite cleric and militia leader Moqtada Al Sadr told followers to pray with Sunnis. In mosques across the country, preachers made similar calls for unity after the destruction of the Golden Mosque in Samarra on February 22.
Al Jaafari, who with US officials blames Al Qaida for the bombing, rallied Sunni and other leaders into resuming talks on a US-sponsored unity coalition to help stem the violence.
The main minority Sunni bloc ended a boycott it called in protest at reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques. Violence has killed at least 500 people, by conservative official accounts.
But after Al 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 Shiite Alliance to ditch him as premier.
"The negotiations will go on but we still insist on removing Al Jaafari," said an official in the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front.
Interior Ministry officials in Baghdad said 19 bodies had been recovered after the attack at Nahrawan near Baghdad, including nine at the local power station, which was wrecked. Municipal council leader Ala'a Abdul Sahab Al Lamy said 21 bodies, mostly of Shiite migrants were found at the brick factory and four at the power station.
"This was a sectarian attack," Lamy said by telephone from a police station where bodies had been brought. It was one of the bloodiest incidents of the conflict. Last week, 47 people were killed near Nahrawan in one attack.
Lamy said that of the bodies recovered from the factory, one was a woman and three were children, including a girl aged about six.
Iraqi forces enforce daytime traffic ban
Iraqi police and soldiers took to the streets yesterday to enforce a daytime ban on private vehicles in the strife-prone capital and its outskirts.
The measure was designed to avert attacks during midday prayers yesterday when large numbers of Muslims congregate for the most important service of the week.
Security forces sealed off Baghdad yesterday, preventing most vehicles from entering or leaving the city of 7 million, said Captain Adil Mohan of the traffic police.
The vehicle ban took effect as the regular overnight curfew ended at 6 am and was due to last until 4 pm.
Residents expressed some frustration that the announcement came only late Thursday, leaving them no time to stock up on food and other provisions. But most accepted the move as necessary to blunt a recent surge in sectarian killing and other attacks.