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Baghdad on lockdown as rockets, bombs fly

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  • NEW: Iraqi parliament convenes to discuss crisis but falls short of quorum
  • President Bush praises Iraqi government push in Basra as "defining moment"
  • Curfew bans pedestrians, vehicles in Baghdad, Basra, four other cities
  • At least four killed in Nasiriya, a stronghold of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Baghdad was on virtual lockdown Friday as a tough new curfew ordered everyone off the streets of the Iraqi capital and five other cities until 5 p.m. Sunday.

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Iraqis survey damage to their home Friday in Baghdad's Sadr City after residents reported a U.S. airstrike.

That restriction didn't stop someone from firing rockets and mortar rounds into the capital's heavily fortified International Zone, commonly known as the Green Zone. One slammed into the office of one of Iraq's vice presidents, Tareq al-Hashemi, killing two guards.

At least 14 people were killed and 61 wounded Friday during clashes between Iraqi security forces and insurgents in Sadr City, a Shiite stronghold in Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said.

Some of the deaths resulted from U.S. airstrikes, which have been supporting Iraqi ground fighting. Video Watch Iraqis flee after the airstrike »

Other U.S. planes bombed Shiite militia positions overnight in the southern city of Basra, a British military spokesman said.

The British military said the firings were the first by coalition forces since the Iraqi army launched an operation Tuesday in Basra, Iraq's second largest city.

At least 120 militia fighters have been killed and 240 wounded in Basra since the military operation started, said an Iraqi Defense Ministry official on condition of anonymity.

A special session of the 275-seat Iraqi parliament convened Friday to discuss ways to stem the violence but fell far short of a quorum, blocking lawmakers from taking action, said Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite lawmaker and member of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa Party.

Al-Abadi said the 60 members who came suggested setting up a committee led by Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab, to mediate the clashes. The political bloc led by dissident Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was among those atttending the session, Al-Abadi said.

The Interior Ministry on Thursday imposed a curfew through the weekend in Baghdad, Hilla, Kut, Diwaniya, Simawa and Basra. Officials banned pedestrian, motorcycle and vehicular traffic through 5 a.m. Sunday (10 p.m. ET Saturday.) Video Watch what led to the curfew »

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government on Friday offered cash to people who surrender medium and heavy weapons by April 8.

New clashes erupted Friday in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya, an al-Sadr stronghold, killing at least four people, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said. Interactive map: See where the fighting has taken place »

Thousands of al-Sadr's supporters took to the streets in Sadr City and another Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad to protest the crackdown launched by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Basra this week. The protesters called al-Maliki the country's "new dictator" and demanded his dismissal.

The fighting threatens to end al-Sadr's seven-month-long suspension of his Mehdi Army militia, regarded as a key factor in Iraq's dramatic drop in violence in recent months. The cleric, whose militia launched two uprisings against U.S. troops in 2004, has kept his cease-fire edict in place for now, but his supporters accuse the government of singling them out for raids by security forces in recent weeks.

In Baghdad, the U.S. Embassy warned employees to remain indoors until there's an end to the rocket and mortar fire.

U.S. State Department official Richard Schmierer said the rocket attacks appeared to be coming from fighters affiliated with al-Sadr who were "trying to make a statement" about the government offensive in Basra. He blamed the violence on "marginal extremist elements" who have associated themselves with the Sadrist movement.

President Bush on Friday praised the Iraqi government's military push into Basra as "a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq," saying the regime is fighting criminals. Video Watch Bush outline why Basra is so important »

"It was just a matter of time before the government was going to have to deal with it," he said, emphasizing that the decision to mount the offensive was al-Maliki's.

Appearing with new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Bush downplayed Australia's decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Saying he was not mad at Rudd for keeping a campaign promise to do so, Bush argued that foreign troops could be sent home because of Western successes in Iraq.

"Troops are coming out because we are successful," he said. "That's fundamentally different from saying, 'It's just too hard, pull 'em out.' "

Al-Maliki's operation is an effort to restore order amid disputes among the Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Fadhila Party. The fighting has been concentrated in areas controlled by al-Sadr's supporters and has spread north to Baghdad and other cities. See who the principal players are »

Al-Maliki's guns-for-cash program was an attempt to stem the violence.

"We call on all those who hold medium and heavy weapons to surrender their weapons to the security forces in exchange for cash award starting from March 28th until April 8, 2008," al-Maliki said in a statement.

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It follows a call by al-Sadr to end the fighting.

"Muqtada al-Sadr calls on all groups to adopt a political situation and peaceful protest and to stop shedding Iraqi blood," senior aide Hazem al-Araji said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Nuri al-MalikiMuqtada al-SadrBasra

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