BAGHDAD: Gun-men shot dead 47 civilians and left their bodies in a ditch near Baghdad yesterday as militia battles and sectarian reprisals followed the bombing of a sacred Shi'ite shrine.
At least 130 people were believed to be killed in the fury unleashed by Wednesday's attack on the Askariya shrine in Samarra.
The Sunni Clerical Association of Muslim Scholars said 168 Sunni mosques had been attacked, 10 imams killed and 15 abducted since the shrine attack.
The government extended a curfew in Baghdad and Salaheddin province for two days. All leaves for Iraqi soldiers and police were cancelled and personnel ordered to report to their units.
The US military said seven American soldiers were killed in two bombings on Wednesday north of Baghdad.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr accused the Iraqi government and US forces of failing to protect the Samarra shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque, and ordered his militia to defend Shi'ite holy sites across Iraq.
"If the government had real sovereignty, then nothing like this would have happened," he said in a statement.
"Brothers in the Mahdi Army must protect all Shi'ite shrines and mosques, especially in Samarra."
A spokesman for the Sunni Clerical Association of Muslim Scholars blamed the violence on the country's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, and other Shi'ite religious leaders.