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Calm Generally Prevails with Iraqi Curfew Extension


Good morning. Baghdad is under curfew today in an effort to stop sectarian violence. I'm Steve Inskeep.

For Friday February 24, this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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INSKEEP: The curfew comes after the destruction of a Shiite Muslim shrine and two days of attacks on Sunni Muslim mosques. This is one of two religious divides we'll explain in this hour.

In Nigeria, the violence is between Muslims and Christians, and just as in Iraq, a lot has to do with who will control the country.

Also this hour, we'll profile the winner of Haiti's presidential election. And we'll report on a surprise winner at the Olympics in women's figure skating it is the first every gold medal for Japan.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs celebrates a birthday today, he's 51 years old.

And the news is next.

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INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, I'm Steve Inskeep.

In this part of the program, we'll report on the battles between religious groups in two parts of the world.

We'll start in Iraq where Baghdad is under curfew today, the Muslim day of Prayer. The government is trying to stop a wave of sectarian killings. They started after a Shiite Shrine in Samarra was bombed on Wednesday.

Government officials say almost 200 people have died in a series of violent reprisals against Sunni Muslims.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay is covering the story from Baghdad and first, Jamie, is this curfew in Baghdad actually being observed?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Well, Steve, it is to a large extent. It's going until four in the afternoon and it applies to Baghdad as well as other providences where there's been a lot of violence, like Diyala, Babil, and Salah ad Din, which is where Samarra is and the scene of the shrine attack.

To a large degree, it is being observed. We are seeing Iraqi security forces blocking off major roads. And they've surrounded two main Sunni mosques here in the capital; having said that though, it's not entirely quiet. The curfew is designed to ban road traffic so people from far away areas can't come to certain mosques and pray and then gather and large demonstrations.

But there is some areas in Baghdad that are controlled by the Mahdi Army. This is the militia that's loyal to the Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. And they've been driving around in pickup trucks calling on loudspeakers for people to meet at a certain mosque in Baghdad to come and demonstrate after noon prayers.

So it's still relatively quiet, but still incredibly tense.

INSKEEP: Are you saying that even in the capital, Baghdad, when the central government puts down an order like this, they don't have enough security forces to cover the city and that militias are in control of certain areas?

TARABAY: Well, we've been seeing for the last couple of days since this shrine attack that the Iraqi security forces haven't really been doing that much. In some cases, we've even heard that they cheered on the attacks and then in others, they've actually been seen taking apart in the attacks.

So, you know, they're out there in certain places, they're doing their job--but in other places they don't seem to be doing much at all.

INSKEEP: Well, what is happening in those neighborhoods that seem to be outside the Iraqi government's control?

TARABAY: Well, there's one neighborhood in particular called Arah(ph), which is very close to Sadr City, which is a Mahdi Army stronghold. And the Mahdi Army's taken control. There are four Sunni mosques in this area and the Mahdi Army has banned people from coming to it. And instead they've hung up black flags and banners in front of the mosques, which here is a sign of mourning.

INSKEEP: And also a color associated with Shiite Muslims, not the Sunni's themselves.

TARABAY: Yes indeed, black is the uniform for the Mahdi Army.

INSKEEP: What are the Iraqi political and religious leaders doing besides imposing this curfew?

TARABAY: Trying frantically to bring everyone together to resolve the crisis. President Jalal Talabani called for a meeting at his house in Baghdad yesterday. And most of the leaders did turn up, except for the Iraqi consensus front, which is the largest Sunni faction in parliament.

And this group says it's not going to resume negotiations, it's not going to talk until it gets an apology for the attacks and until the damaged mosques are compensated and that those who attacked them mosques are punished.

It's a big problem. I mean, at the very least it would, it will stall the formation of the new government. And at most it could ruin American chances to establish a non-sectarian government and move ahead with its strategy to draw down troops.

INSKEEP: We've been talking to NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. Jamie, thanks very much.

TARABAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.