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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraqis Hope for Calm as Curfew Ends

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi authorities on Monday lifted a curfew in Baghdad imposed to halt a sectarian bloodbath caused by the bombing of a Shiite holy site, but a mortar attack that killed four people kept fears of civil war alive.

As traffic returned and shopkeepers removed padlocks to open for business, the city waited to see whether the three-day daylight curfew had ended Iraq's gravest postwar crisis.

Another 13 people were wounded by the mortar that hit the Shiite Shula district in mainly Sunni western Baghdad, police said. Still fearful of sectarian reprisals, families on either side of the religious divide abandoned homes where they felt threatened by neighbors, or barricaded themselves in.

The three-day curfew, combined with the one already in force at night, damped down violence that killed more than 200 people after Wednesday's destruction of the Golden Mosque, a Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

The bloodshed had prompted the defense minister to warn of the danger of "endless civil war" if it went unchecked.

"We are happy. It seems this crisis created by fanatic infidels has ended," said Ali Jabr, who owns a small store in central Baghdad's Tahrir Square, which had been closed off to traders who flock there every day from outlying cities.

Tensions between majority Shiites and minority Sunni Arabs had led Iraqi leaders, still trying to form a government after a Dec. 15 poll, to voice civil war fears for the first time.

The daytime curfew may have bottled up sectarian rage, but not all was calm over the weekend. Mortar fire killed 15 people and shooting erupted Sunday around two Baghdad mosques.

"We heard many blasts, so we rushed to see what happened, and then a mortar struck near me," said Kathim Mahdi, 20, a laborer wounded in the attack.

The overall death toll of 30, which included five people killed in a minibus, several teenagers shot while playing soccer and three U.S. soldiers, was lower than on the four previous days since the suspected al-Qaida bomb at the mosque.

Iraqis, exhausted after two-and-a-half years of a Sunni-led insurgency that has killed thousands of people and ravaged their oil-driven economy, said they were pleased to get back to work.

"We feel good. It seems the problem has ended, but it made us lose money," said Raid, another shopkeeper.

Motorists began lining up again in petrol queues that can stretch for several kilometers. Casual laborers returned to wait for work, braving the risk of bombings that have targeted such lines in the past.

Taxi driver Abu Marwan appeared relieved as he sipped tea at a restaurant.

"To be honest, I thought civil war had begun after the angry reaction I saw after the Samarra bombing. I stocked food and packed our main valuables ready to go back to Tikrit if things deteriorated in Baghdad," the Sunni said.

n Sunni Arabs are ready to end their boycott of talks to form a new government if rival Shiites return mosques seized in last week's sectarian attacks and meet other unspecified demands, a top Sunni figure said Monday, The Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, there was no word on the fate of Jill Carroll, an American journalist seized last month. The Sunday deadline set by her kidnappers in a message this month to a Kuwaiti television station passed without any new message from her abductors.