The Iraqi government declared a state of emergency in Baghdad after American forces were involved in quelling a firefight in the city's center.
The state of emergency and curfew imposed today followed a gunfight that broke out as members of the Mahdi Army militia moved in force to escort the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to a Shiite mosque in a Sunni neighborhood. During last week's Friday services, a suicide bomber carrying explosives in his shoes blew himself up in a crowd of worshipers at the Baratha mosque, killing 11 and wounding 25.
Four members of the militia were killed when gunmen opened fire on the Mahdi Army convoy, in fighting involving guns and mortars that left eight of the group's vehicles ablaze, an official with the Interior Ministry said.
Iraqi and American troops rushed to the scene, and three Iraqi police officers and five Iraqi soldiers were wounded in the fighting, Reuters said. Televised images showed American helicopters swooping low to drop flares over the midday battle.
The government responded to the outbreak by ordering a sudden curfew, extending from 2 p.m. today to 6 a.m. Saturday, sending Baghdad residents scrambling to get home in time. Normally, vehicle traffic is banned in the city from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, to prevent repetitions of earlier car bomb attacks on the crowds attending Friday services.
The state of emergency includes a ban on carrying weapons and gives Iraqi security forces broader arrest powers, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohamed Jassim of the Defense Ministry said, The Associated Press reported.
"The state of emergency and curfew came in the wake of today's clashes to let the army work freely to chase militants and to avoid casualties among civilians," he said, adding that security forces will arrest people carrying weapons and will shoot them if they appear to pose a danger.
Tell me again how an ultra-secret surprise visit by Bush proves that the Iraqi occupation/experiment is a smashing success. Tell me again how peace and democracy and standing-down is just around the corner. Tell me again what objective our troops are getting killed for.
Tell me again why the Republicans want to make this a 2006 election issue, and please, PLEASE tell me that the Democrats have a plan to counter it (how hard could it be???).