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Iraq violence keeps sectarian tension high

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, March 2 (Reuters) A bomb that killed five people in the Baghdad stronghold of a Shi'ite militia today and a machinegun attack on the car of a leading Sunni politician kept sectarian tension crackling after a week of bloodshed in Iraq.

The Mehdi Army of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said it would defend its neighbourhoods after a bomb, possibly a suicide attack, killed five and wounded eight in a minibus in the heart of Sadr City, a Shi'ite slum in eastern Baghdad.

The area has been relatively immune from Sunni insurgent attacks, possibly because Sadr has sought alliances with Sunnis who share his nationalist, anti-American posture.

In mainly Sunni west Baghdad, gunmen ambushed and destroyed the armoured limousine of Adnan al-Dulaimi, a veteran leader of the main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, a party spokesman who was present said. A bodyguard was killed.

Dulaimi himself had only just got out of the car because it had a flat tyre. As he resumed his journey in another vehicle, his guards were surrounded by assailants firing assault rifles.

A senior official in Sadr's movement accused Sunni Islamists allied to al Qaeda of bombing the minibus and said the Mehdi Army would respond.

''Today, the terrorists have targeted Sadr City because it has a Shi'ite majority which shows the extremists want to fight Shi'ites wherever they are,'' Hazim Araji told Reuters.

''We are going to coordinate with Iraqi army and police but the Mehdi Army is going to have a key role in providing protection,'' he said, adding that some approaches to the slum area that is home to perhaps two million people may be blocked.

Dozens of militiamen swarmed into the streets after the bombing.

The Shi'ite-led interim government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has struggled to respond to violence since the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra on February. 22.


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