Baghdad: Three Sunni mosques were bombed in Iraq yesterday in apparent reprisals for an attack on a revered Shiite shrine, sparking fears of fresh sectarian bloodletting.
Curfews were swiftly imposed in Baghdad and in Samarra, where suspected Al Qaida militants on Wednesday bombed the Al Askari mosque, but at least six Sunni mosques have been attacked, including one in the capital.
The destruction of Samarra's two gold-covered minarets came after an initial attack on the shrine in 2006, also blamed on Al Qaida, sparked Sunni-Shiite reprisals that have claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Early yesterday, two Sunni mosques in Iskandiriyah and one in Mahawil, both south of Baghdad, were bombed, Lieutenant Kamal Al Ameri of Hilla police said.
One of the Iskandiriyah mosques had already been attacked on Wednesday, along with two others in the town and one in Baghdad - the latter despite a curfew in the capital that was due to be lifted tomorrow.
"Insurgents bombed the mosque again today at around 4am (midnight GMT) and shrapnel from the bomb wounded a woman and girl in a nearby apartment," Al Ameri said of Iskandiriyah's twice-bombed Al Hatteen mosque.
He said that on Wednesday unknown men had launched a coordinated attack on the town's Grand Mosque, first with bombs and then with rocket-propelled grenades.
The Samarra attack triggered widespread protests among Iraq's Shiites with thousands yesterday taking to the streets of Baghdad's Sadr City and in the cities of Kut and Amara in the south.
"No! No! to occupation," young black-clad Shiites shouted in Sadr City, waving black banners and Iraqi flags inside the bastion of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr who has blamed the US for the Samarra attack.
Banners calling for a united Iraq and a fight against sectarianism were seen in the crowd alongside posters of Al Sadr, a photographer said.
In Kut, angry Shiites protested in front of the local government building.
"We demand that the government work hard to protect shrines and prevent sectarian violence. We demand that Iraqi blood be protected," shouted protester Dhiya Abdul Amir.
Hundreds more protesters took to the streets further south in Amara where Al Sadr representative Munshid Al Zurfi slammed the Samarra attack as "a conspiracy by the occupier".
US President George W. Bush blamed the latest attack on Al Qaida. He said the bombing was aimed at "inflaming sectarian tensions among the peoples of Iraq and defeating their aspirations for a secure, democratic and prosperous country".
Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki blamed the shrine guards for Wednesday's attack. "The guards present there had a role in this attack and they will be punished," Al Maliki told reporters during a visit to Samarra.
The US military said that 13 policemen, including a senior officer, had been arrested by the local police after the latest attack.