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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 February 2006, 15:32 GMT
Iraq leaders see hope of progress
Iraqi soldiers guard a Sunni mosque in Baghdad
Shia militia and Sunni clerics have said they will help protect holy sites
Political and militia leaders in Iraq say they have made progress in talks aimed at curbing sectarian violence.

At least 165 people have been killed since Wednesday in unrest sparked by the bombing of a major Shia shrine.

Sunni clerics and one of the main Shia militias have agreed to work together to prevent further sectarian bloodshed.

And a senior Sunni politician told the BBC that a new security plan had been worked out by Sunni and Shia leaders which could help relieve tensions.

The need for greater security was underlined on Sunday when an explosion hit a Shia shrine in the southern city of Basra.

But the bomb, placed in the building's toilets, caused little damage and there were no serious injuries.

And in further violence later on Sunday, a series of mortar attacks in Baghdad's southern district of Dora killed at least eight people and injured another 32, police said.

Security deal

Salah al-Mutluq, who heads the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, told the BBC the new security plan involved removing Shia-dominated interior ministry forces, including police, from sensitive Sunni areas.

The Iraqi people have one enemy; it is terrorism and only terrorism. There are no Sunnis against Shia
Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari

Instead, these districts would be patrolled by the Iraqi army and multinational troops, he said.

Interior ministry police have been implicated in a number of "death squad" killings of Sunnis.

Residents of Abu Ghraib in western Baghdad told the BBC on Sunday that the Iraqi army appeared already to have taken over street patrols from interior ministry forces.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and President Jalal Talabani were among senior Iraqi political leaders who met for talks on Saturday aimed improving the security situation.

The BBC's Jon Brain in Baghdad says there is renewed hope that political leaders will be able to salvage the stalled political process and form a coalition government.

The extreme violence of the past few days appears to have concentrated minds on trying to find a solution to the country's sectarian divisions, he says.

The main Sunni bloc says it is prepared to resume formal negotiations if the authorities fulfil a pledge to protect its communities, our correspondent adds.

Armed groups

The bombing of the al-Askari shrine in the city of Samarra, one of the country's holiest Shia sites, has led to fears that Iraq may descend into civil war.

Map of Iraq showing Hilla

Moqtada al-Sadr's militia and the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars issued a joint statement condemning the shrine's destruction and its violent aftermath.

They also agreed to look into the possibility of the Mahdi army being deployed to protect mosques and other sites of religious importance in Iraq.

BBC correspondents in Baghdad says the deal is fraught with potential difficulties because many of these sites are currently controlled by rival armed groups or the Iraqi armed forces.

Meanwhile a daytime curfew in Baghdad, imposed to try to contain the spiralling violence, has been lifted but a 24-hour ban on road traffic remains in place.

Police report at least two people killed in a blast in a bus station in Hilla, south of Baghdad.

Reports from the town, where a curfew was lifted on Sunday, say a bomb exploded on a bus as it was leaving the town's crowded bus station.

The predominantly Shia town has frequently been targeted by insurgents.

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