Bombs and bullets kill more than 50 as U.S. steps up efforts to calm Iraqi chaos

Bombs and gunfire killed about 60 people as another daytime curfew Saturday failed to halt violence that has claimed nearly 200 lives since the destruction of a Shiite shrine set off a wave of retribution against Sunnis and pushed Iraq toward civil war.

In an unusual round of telephone diplomacy, President George W. Bush spoke with seven leaders of Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political parties in a bid to defuse the sectarian crisis unleashed by the bombing of the Shiites' Askariya shrine in Samarra.

Bush "encouraged them to continue to work together to thwart the efforts of the perpetrators of the violence to sow discord among Iraq's communities," said Frederick Jones, a spokesman for the White House's National Security Council.

Reprisal attacks that followed the Wednesday blast in Samarra have derailed talks on a forming new Iraqi government and threaten Washington's goal of building up a self-sufficient Iraq free of U.S. military involvement.

A second straight day of curfew in Baghdad and three surrounding provinces kept the city relatively calm, raising hopes the worst of the crisis was past. Authorities lifted the curfew in the areas outside Baghdad but decreed an all-day vehicle ban Sunday for the capital and its suburbs.

"I think the danger of civil war as a result of this attack has diminished, although I do not believe we are completely out of danger yet," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters Saturday night.

Nevertheless, bloodshed continued.

A car bomb exploded in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, killing at least six people, hospital officials said. Gunmen broke into a Shiite home northeast of Baghdad and massacred 13 male members, police said.

Bodies of 14 Iraqi police commandos were found near their three burned vehicles near a Sunni mosque in southwestern Baghdad, police Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi said. Two rockets slammed into Baghdad's Shiite slum, Sadr City, killing three people, including a child, and wounding seven, police said.

Two Iraqi security officers guarding the funeral of an Al-Arabiya television correspondent Atwar Bahjat were killed and four other people were wounded when a car bomb exploded as mourners left a cemetery in western Baghdad. Bahjat was slain Wednesday along with two colleagues after covering the Samarra shrine bombing, reports AP.

O.Ch.