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Iraq Transition

Iraqi leaders discuss unity government

25 people killed in violence; Bush calls sectarian leaders



• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide



BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- In a dramatic show of solidarity amid fears of escalating violence, Iraq's leaders from virtually all political factions met Saturday to discuss the formation of a national unity government.

The meeting included representatives of the Iraqi Accord Front, which had announced a boycott of national unity talks following violent reprisals against Sunnis.

The gathering, televised live on Iraqi TV, included Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, President Jalal Talabani and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Also attending was U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.

Bolstering the show of unity were Shiite and Sunni religious and political leaders who met earlier in an effort to promote peace. They included representatives of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the Association of Muslim Scholars and the Iraqi Accord Front.

In separate phone calls, President Bush pledged support to seven prominent Iraqis -- including al-Jaafari and Talabani -- for their leadership in the aftermath of the Golden Mosque bombing this week, said National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones.

The attack Wednesday on the Al-Askariya "Golden" Mosque in Samarra, considered one of the holiest of Shiite sites, has triggered reprisals across Iraq, including the killings of Sunnis, attacks on their mosques and mass protests. (Watch: Are militias being kept in check? -- 1:43)

The office of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said Bush also called him expressing sorrow and "affirmed America's support in rebuilding the mosque."

On Friday, al-Hakim, a top Shiite political figure, joined the top Shiite cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in urging Iraqis to remain calm and unite against extremists.

Curfew extended

To prevent sectarian violence from spiraling into civil war, authorities imposed an extended curfew Saturday. Nonetheless, at least 25 people were killed, including nearly a dozen members of a family believed to be Shiite.

No comprehensive death toll has been given since the violence erupted Wednesday, but at least 200 deaths have been officially reported, and CNN has learned of more. There have been more than 100 attacks on Sunni mosques and institutions.

Despite the violence, U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch insisted Saturday that it has not been widespread.

"Let me be clear. There have been pockets of violence, but we don't see that as a precursor to civil war," he said at a news conference.

The tallies of casualties and attacks Lynch provided were lower than those reported by the media. But the general said insurgents often overstate such numbers to give the impression that their efforts are more effective than they really are.

Observing an overnight curfew, from 8 p.m. Saturday until 6 a.m. Sunday are Baghdad, and the provinces of Diyala, Babil and Salaheddin. Baghdad and its suburbs are observing an extended 24-hour curfew through 6 a.m. Monday.

This curfew comes after a second daylight curfew for those regions. (Watch how the curfews went -- 2:08)

Under the curfew, no cars are permitted to enter or leave Baghdad, and the only vehicles allowed on the road will be those providing vital services, such as police cars and ambulances.

People are free to walk around, but those with arms will be detained. The extraordinary measure is aimed at preventing mass gatherings that would provide targets for suicide attackers and gunmen.

Journalist's funeral targeted

Two attacks targeted the funeral procession for Atwar Bahjat, the well-known Al Arabiya correspondent killed with two crew members Wednesday while reporting on the aftermath of the Golden Mosque bombing.

Two police officers were shot and killed and five others wounded as the procession, led and guarded by Iraqi police and soldiers, entered the western Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Ghraib on Saturday, Iraqi Emergency Police said.

Police said they think the gunmen opened fire because they believed Iraqi security forces were bearing down on them. (Watch how the sectarian violence has Iraqis on edge -- 2:38)

The Iraqi security personnel were accompanying the procession because the capital was under a curfew that banned vehicles, said Dia'a al-Nasery, manager of Al-Arabiya's Baghdad bureau.

The attack happened near the home of Harith Al-Dari, the head of the Muslim Scholars Association, and along a forked road that links Baghdad with Syria and Jordan.

When the shots rang out, security officers ordered people in the convoy to abandon their vehicles and hide behind nearby houses.

Later, as the procession resumed toward the cemetery, a roadside bomb exploded, causing an unknown number of casualties, including deaths, said al-Nasery.

In the largely Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, a mortar struck a house Saturday afternoon, killing three people and wounding four others, emergency police said.

A few hours later, a similar mortar struck a house in al-Hurriya, a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood in northwestern Baghdad, killing four people and wounding four others, emergency police said.

Busy street, holy sites attacked

In a suburb of Karbala, a bomb planted inside a car parked along a busy road killed five people and wounded 31 others, police said. One suspect has been detained, police added.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad 11 bodies were found as of noon Saturday, police said.

Also early Saturday, insurgents in Tuz Khumatu bombed and destroyed a Shiite shrine commemorating Ali al-Ridha, one of the 12 ancient imams revered by Shiites, said Kirkuk police.

That attack came hours after strikes against two Sunni mosques in Baghdad and against the tomb of Salman al-Farris, a shrine sacred to both Sunnis and Shiites, emergency police in Baghdad said. (Details)

An Iraqi police commando and an insurgent were killed at the Kubaysi mosque, a U.S. military spokesman said Saturday. Seven commandos were wounded, and two insurgents were detained. The commandos took control of the mosque and found AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

CNN's Elaine Quijano, Ingrid Formanek, Elise Labott, Terence Burke, Arwa Damon, Aneesh Raman, Barbara Starr and David Ensor contributed to this report.

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