- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

BAGHDAD — A series of suicide attacks, car bombs and mortar barrages rocked Baghdad yesterday, killing dozens of people and wounding scores as Iraq teetered on the brink of sectarian civil war. President Bush decried the violence and said Iraqis must choose between “chaos or unity.”

Iraqis have suffered through days of reprisal killings and attacks on Sunni mosques since bombers blew apart the golden dome of the revered Shi’ite Askariya shrine in Samarra a week ago. The Iraqi Cabinet said at least 379 persons had been killed and 458 wounded in reprisal attacks, and some estimates have put the toll far higher.

In the latest attacks, two explosions hit Shi’ite targets in northern Baghdad after sundown, killing at least 15 persons and wounding 72.

Officials said either a car bomb or a mortar hit the Abdel Hadi Chalabi mosque in the Hurriyah neighborhood, killing 23 persons and wounding 55.

Mortar fire at the Shi’ite Imam Kadhim shrine in the Kazimiyah neighborhood on the opposite side of the Tigris River killed one and wounded 10.

Earlier, five bomb attacks rattled the capital, killing at least 41 and wounding scores. Numerous reports noted other fatalities across the country.

In Washington, Mr. Bush sidestepped a question about whether the surge in sectarian violence would affect his administration’s hopes to begin withdrawing U.S. troops.

“Obviously, there are some who are trying to sow the seeds of sectarian violence,” Mr. Bush said. “And now, the people of Iraq and their leaders must make a choice. The choice is chaos or unity, the choice is a free society or a society dictated by evil people who would kill innocents.”

The State Department released details of a $4 billion Iraq plan for economic, political and military rebuilding it is seeking from Congress in a supplemental spending bill for fiscal 2006 and its fiscal 2007 budget request. The funds are in addition to a $70 billion request from the Defense Department for its operations in Iraq.

With the $21 billion in reconstruction funds already approved by Congress nearly exhausted, James F. Jeffrey, the State Department’s point man on Iraq, said the new money would be targeted to building up Iraqi capabilities in a range of fields.

“We’re shifting from reconstruction to capacity building in all these areas,” he said.

In addition to funding State Department operations in the country, the money would be used for such programs as bolstering Iraqi courts and government ministries, protecting infrastructure, aiding small businesses, training journalists and giving technical advice to Iraq’s fledgling political parties.

Fears of civil war have been complicated by the continuing struggle to form a new Iraqi government. National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie traveled to the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, the Shi’ite community’s most revered leader.

North of Baghdad, a blast badly damaged a Sunni mosque where the father of Saddam Hussein was buried in the family’s ancestral hometown, Tikrit.

The deposed leader’s trial resumed in Baghdad with prosecutors presenting a document they said was signed by Saddam approving the executions of more than 140 Shi’ites in southern Iraq after an assassination attempt in the 1980s.

Among those sentenced to hang was an 11-year-old boy.

In the bloodiest incident, a suicide attacker joined a line of people waiting to buy kerosene at a Shi’ite neighborhood in Baghdad before detonating the explosives strapped to his body, police and witnesses said. The blast killed 23 persons and injured 51, said Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi, an Interior Ministry official.

The U.S. military reported an American soldier was killed by small-arms fire west of Baghdad Monday.

In the south yesterday, two British soldiers were killed in Amarah, 180 miles from Baghdad, the Defense Ministry reported in London. The deaths raised the British toll in the Iraq conflict to 103.

• Staff writer David R. Sands contributed to this article.

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