BAGHDAD, (AP) – Bombings across Baghdad killed at least nine Iraqi civilians and wounded 12 in three separate attacks early Sunday, including one near Iran’s embassy, police officials said.
The violence came a day after two of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite leaders agreed to end a bitter rivalry and months of armed clashes and assassinations in the oil-rich south that have threatened to spread into a wider conflict.
The incidents began around 7 a.m., when a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol exploded near a minibus carrying workers into central Baghdad.
Three people were killed and four wounded in the Shiite-dominated neighborhood of Baladiyat in the eastern part of the capital, according to a police official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The inside of the mangled minibus was soaked in blood, the metal hulk was pummeled by shrapnel and the windows were shattered, according to Associated Press Television News footage.
A half-hour later, in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora in southern Baghdad, a second roadside bomb targeting a U.S. patrol missed its target, killing three Iraqi civilians and wounding three others, police said.
And in the downtown commercial area of Salihiyah, a bomb planted in the back of a car parked near the Iranian Embassy exploded around 8:30 a.m., killing three Iraqi passers-by and wounding five others, according to police. Dozens of people gathered to examine the smoldering wreckage at the side of the road, according to APTN footage.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the largest Shiite political party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, promised Saturday to stop the bloodshed and enhance cooperation between their two movements.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday endorsed the deal, saying it gave him “great comfort.”
Internal rivalries have been rising in recent months, particularly in the southern Shiite heartland where factions have been vying for power as the British military has pulled back to a base at the Basra airport.
The three-point agreement appeared to be aimed at reining in rival militants loyal to al-Sadr and al-Hakim before the fighting erupts into a full-fledged conflict that could shatter the relative unity of the Shiite-led governing apparatus.
The Mahdi Army militia, which is nominally loyal to al-Sadr, and the armed wing of al-Hakim’s party, known as the Badr Brigade, face long-standing rivalries and frequently have clashed since Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime was ousted in 2003.
Tensions boiled over this summer with the assassination of two provincial governors belonging to SIIC, the targeting of al-Sadr lieutenants and even the shooting deaths of several aides to Iraq’s pre-eminent Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
A turning point appears to have been in late August when deadly street battles broke out between militia fighters in the holy city of Karbala, killing dozens of people during a major Shiite religious festival.
Trying to do damage control, al-Sadr announced a “freeze” of his militia activities for up to six months to allow for its restructuring. However, it is unclear how much control the youthful cleric maintains over his fighters as groups have splintered from the main movement.
The U.S. military has welcomed al-Sadr’s call for his fighters to stand down but says it will continue targeting so-called rogue elements it believes are being trained and funded by Iran.
Also Sunday, the leader of Iraq’s self-governing Kurdish region spoke out in an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal about new oil agreements with several international companies.
The central government in Baghdad is upset about the deals, saying the Kurds should wait until the passage of a national oil law before signing any new contracts.
But Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said the deals were “not an attempt to usurp the nation’s oil resources” but rather to make “these valuable resources work for the people of Iraq.”
He said the Kurdish regional government has signed eight production-sharing contracts with international oil and gas companies since enacting its own law governing foreign oil investments in August and expected to sign two more “in the near future.”