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Iraqi clerics urge end to violence

They hope to defuse fury over blast at Shiite shrine

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BAGHDAD, Iraq — A day after a suicide bomber killed 35 people at a revered Shiite shrine, clerics across Iraq on Friday called for an end to the sectarian killing that one imam described as "waking everyday to the view of blood."

The bombing near the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf on Thursday ignited fresh sectarian passions that lingered over sermons in Shiite and Sunni mosques. Some Muslim clerics wondered if Iraq has slipped too far, becoming a nation where the sounds of weeping mothers and praying imams are lost in the din of kidnappings, explosions and slaughter.

"We lost all our feelings. We are saying goodbye to our sons everyday," said Khaled Hassnawi, a Sunni imam, in his sermon at the Sheik Abdul Kadir mosque in Baghdad. "Wherever you go you see the blood of Muslims being shed. When will this time pass? When will those playing with this fate be satisfied?"

Speaking at the largest Shiite mosque here, Imam Sayed Nail Musawi said: "These adversities that you are seeing everyday is like training for us. God is testing our patience . . . The incident in Najaf, who was killed? Poor people in the market. More than 30 were martyred. Najaf's sacredness was violated by this attack."

But even on a day of prayer, violence continued across the country. The bodies of six blindfolded and tortured men were found west and east of Baghdad. A roadside bomb near of northern city of Kirkuk exploded at Iraqi police convoy, killing two policemen and injuring three.

Gunmen in southern Iraq ransacked two offices belonging to President Jalal Talabani's political party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The attacks in the cities of Kut and Karbala followed a PUK newspaper story charging that a top Shiite cleric, Sheik Yaqoubi, had inflamed sectarian tension between Shiites and Sunni Kurds in Kirkuk. One security guard was injured.

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has blamed the Najaf bombing on attempts by Sunni insurgents and loyalists to former President Saddam Hussein to prevent reconciliation between Shiite and Sunni.

The government in recent weeks has been unable to stem sectarian killings, even as U.S. and Iraqi soldiers have stepped up raids in Baghdad and other cities to shutdown militias and death squads.

Many Shiite leaders have lost faith in the Iraqi army and police and are calling for more reliance on neighborhood defense committees and militias, including the al-Mahdi army controlled by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. In several sermons on Friday, Sunni and Shiite imams criticized the Iraqi government and American forces.

In a statement released by his office, al-Sadr said that if government officials do not swiftly end the U.S. occupation, "I will disavow them until Judgment Day."

Musawi said: "When the government is able to protect the country and its people, then we will have no need for the militias. The government is not able to protect its own officials, that is why they are staying in the Green Zone. They should let us protect ourselves."

Imam Mohammed Ahmad Falluji told his followers at the Sunni Raqeeb mosque in Fallujah: "These sectarian acts bring nothing to the country but disaster and bloodshed. Such acts serve but the American and foreign plans that aim to render Iraq into a weak and divided country suffering from hostilities. Things will continue to deteriorate as long as the occupier exists on our land."

Contributing: correspondents in Baghdad, Fallujah, Najaf and Kirkuk.