BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – The motorcade of Iraq’s prime minister was pelted with stones on Sunday by fellow Shi’ites in a Baghdad slum when he paid respects to some of the 200 who died there last week in the deadliest attack since the U.S. invasion.
The anger in Sadr City, stronghold of the Medhi Army Shi’ite militia, boiled over on the third day of a curfew imposed on the capital by Nuri al-Maliki’s U.S-backed national unity coalition as it scrambled desperately to stop popular passions exploding into all-out civil war between Shi’ites and the Sunni minority.
“It’s all your fault!” one man shouted as, in unprecedented scenes, a hostile crowd began to surge around Maliki. Men and youths then jeered and jostled as his armoured convoy edged through the throng away from a mourning ceremony for one of the 202 victims of Thursday’s multiple car bomb attack in Sadr City.
Subsequent reprisals against Sunni mosques and homes and three days of sporadic mortar fire among Baghdad neighbourhoods have kept the city’s 7 million people locked down at home, fearful of what may come when the traffic ban ends on Monday.
“Every time there’s a curfew I feel civil war will erupt very soon,” said Baghdad housewife Um Hani after three days stuck indoors. “I feel the sitution is sliding toward an abyss.”
Politicians from all sides issued a new joint appeal for calm. But Maliki, who is to meet U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday, accused fellow leaders of fuelling the violence.
In Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, police found 25 bodies. In western Iraq, a tribal chief said his followers killed 55 al Qaeda militants in a clash between rival Sunni groups.
A car bomb killed 6 people in a mainly Shi’ite town south of Baghdad. Aides to Sunni parliamentarian Adnan al-Dulaimi said gunmen fired on his home in the capital and Sunni clerics said militants had again attacked Sunni mosques in west Baghdad.
“We are counting on you, a great nation,” Shi’ite, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish leaders said in the joint statement. “Do not let those who are depriving you of security impinge on your unity. “They want to drag you all into angry reactions.”
But Maliki, who is working on a cabinet reshuffle, said in-fighting at the top was not helping: “The ones who can stop a further deterioration and the bloodshed are the politicians.”
Frustrated by political paralysis and ever harsher rhetoric, he said that could happen “only when they agree and all realise that there are no winners and losers in this battle.”
Iraqis, and Maliki’s sponsors in Washington, also decry his failure either to rein in militants on all sides or improve the economy since taking office in April as a compromise candidate. He in turn seems irritated by a lack of compromise by Sunnis and the Shi’ite allies, like Mehdi Army leader and cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, on whom he is dependent for his own position.
Sadr wants an immediate U.S. withdrawal and has threatened to boycott the government if Maliki meets Bush. Both sides expect talks to go ahead, however, and to focus on bolstering Iraq’s security forces, despite concerns that many police and troops owe their principle loyalties to sectarian factions.
President Jalal Talabani is due to make a delayed visit to Tehran on Monday, part of a round of regional diplomacy that also includes another U.S. enemy Syria. Washington accuses Syria of aiding Sunni insurgents and Iran of backing Shi’ite militias.
Bush appears sceptical but, following electoral losses this month, he says he is open to new approaches.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday that he was ready to help — if they left now: “The Iranian nation is ready to help you get out of that swamp on one condition … You should pledge to correct your attitude,” he said on television. “Go back, and take your forces to behind your borders.”
Iraq’s neighbours will send foreign ministers to a meeting at the Arab League in Cairo on Dec. 5, Egypt said on Sunday.