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Iraq Transition

21 Shiites gunned down in front of families

Story Highlights

• Suicide car bomber kills four, including U.S. Marine, in Anbar province
• Vice President Cheney concludes all-day meeting with Saudi king
• Baghdad curfew extended until Monday morning
• Sunni leader appeals to world to help rein in government's support of militia
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Sunni gunmen stormed two Shiite homes in Diyala province overnight and slaughtered 21 men in front of their families, Diyala authorities said Saturday.

Also on Saturday, a suicide car bomber at a checkpoint northwest of Khalidiya in Anbar province killed two children, an adult and a U.S. Marine, the U.S. military said. Ten other people, including a coalition service member, were wounded.

The attacks add to the series of sectarian reprisals since Thursday's assault on the Baghdad Shiite enclave of Sadr City, considered the single worst attack in Iraq since the war began. (Watch as two fathers shield sons from today's Iraq Video)

At least 200 people were killed and 250 wounded in that attack, which many balme on Sunni militants.

In response, officials have imposed a strict curfew and ban on traffic until Monday, and shut down Baghdad's airport, forcing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Saturday to postpone a trip to Iran.

He was to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss ways Iran might help stabilize Iraq.

Vice President Dick Cheney was on his way back to Washington on Saturday after a daylong whirlwind meeting with Saudi Arabian King Abdullah.

They discussed developments in Iraq, Iran's growing influence in the region, the status of Hamas in Gaza, and Syria's influence in Lebanon's government, a Saudi adviser told CNN. (Full story)

The political efforts come as a top Sunni leader urged the world community, including Arab nations, to help end the hostilities and rein in what he said was the Shiite-dominated government's backing of militias.

Hareth al-Dhari called the government "biased" and an "excellent sectarian government" and said that "what is going on in Iraq is a political crisis and not a sectarian crisis -- like some politicians like to say." (Watch for the differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims Video)

His group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, had swiftly condemned the Sadr City attack and sent "condolences to the martyrs," a reference to those killed. It called the bloodbath a "repeated scene to agitate sectarian sedition."

Al-Dhari's appeal, which was made in Egypt, came a day after anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc threatened to withdraw support for Iraq's prime minister if a meeting with President Bush goes ahead as planned.

Since the Sadr City attack, enraged Shiites have retaliated by burning people to death and torching Sunni mosques, witnesses told CNN.

The violence threatens to bring Iraq to all-out civil warfare, a run-up toward chaos that has been escalating since February when a Shiite shrine was bombed in Samarra.

That shrine attack prompted Sunni-Shiite vendettas that have continued throughout the year.

On Saturday, mortar rounds landed on two houses in the northwestern Baghdad neighborhood of Hurriya, killing one person and wounding three others.

The Shiite majority neighborhood, which includes Sunnis, was also the scene of violence Friday, when Shiites attacked two Sunni mosques with rocket-propelled grenades and torched two other Sunni mosques.

Shiite militiamen are reported to have doused Sunnis with kerosene and burned them, while shooting at other people. (Full story)

Mortar rounds also hit the Shiite district of Abu Dshir in southeastern Baghdad, wounding four people, and Sadr City on Saturday afternoon, wounding a woman.

Thirteen were wounded by mortar rounds in the neighborhood of Adhamiya, a Baghdad police official said Saturday.

Police on Saturday said they found 17 bullet-riddled bodies in Baghdad neighborhoods, apparently killed in Sunni-Shiite fighting.

The U.S. military set up additional security checkpoints Saturday around Baghdad bases where Iraqi military operations are being conducted, he said.

Insurgents targeted

The U.S. military said coalition forces killed 22 insurgents and launched three airstrikes on a bomb-making factory during two separate operations north of Iraq's capital Saturday.

In an operation conducted in Taji, 10 insurgents and a teenage boy were killed in a firefight.

In a written statement, the military said a pregnant woman was wounded and taken to a hospital for treatment. She is expected to be released Sunday.

Coalition forces said they found rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, anti-aircraft weaponry, pipe bombs and more than 3,000 feet of detonation cord in the area.

In another operation, the military said, coalition forces killed 12 insurgents in fighting north of Baghdad.

U.S. forces opened fire on a suspected militant traveling in an entourage of three vehicles when the vehicles would not stop.

The military also said the terrorist suspect makes bombs and channels foreign fighters into the northern Baghdad area. During the operation, the coalition approached three vehicles carrying the militant and his associates.

"Twelve armed terrorists ignored warning shots and attempted to maneuver on the ground force," a military statement said.

The coalition forces then opened fire on the vehicles and killed them.

U.S. soldier dies

A U.S. Marine died Friday after being wounded in fighting in Anbar province, the U.S. military said Saturday.

The Marine was assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, and the death brings the number of U.S. troop deaths in the Iraq war to 2,867.

Seven military contractors have also died in the war.

CNN's Arwa Damon, Suzanne Malveaux, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Michael Ware, Hayat Mongodin, Erin McLaughlin and Nic Robertson contributed to this report.

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