(04-01) 22:48 PST BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) --
Influential Sunni Muslim clerics who once condemned Iraqi security force members as traitors made a surprise turnaround Friday and encouraged citizens to join the nascent police and army.
If heeded, the announcement could strengthen the image of the officers and soldiers trying to take over the fight against the Sunni-led insurgency.
Still, it wasn't a full-fledged endorsement. The edict, endorsed by a group of 64 Sunni clerics and scholars, instructed enlistees to refrain from helping foreign troops against their own countrymen.
Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, a cleric in the Association of Muslim Scholars, read the edict during a sermon at a major Sunni mosque in Baghdad. He said it was necessary for Sunnis to join the security forces to prevent Iraqi police and army from falling into "the hands of those who have caused chaos, destruction and violated the sanctities."
It seemed to be a recognition by the Sunni minority, which dominated under former dictator Saddam Hussein, that Iraq's interim government is slowly retaking control of the nation and paving the way for a U.S. withdrawal.
In the central city of Samarra, an explosion Friday blew away part of a wall on top of a minaret from a 9th-century mosque, scattering rubble on the stairs that spiral up the outside of one of Iraq's most recognized landmarks.
Witnesses said two men climbed the 170-foot-tall minaret, then returned to the ground before the blast. The U.S. military blamed insurgents.
It was unclear why the minaret was targeted. U.S. troops have used it as a sniper position, and last year the terrorist group al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, flew a flag from its peak. Sgt. Brian Thomas, a spokesman for the 42nd Infantry Division, said coalition forces no longer use the minaret.
A symbol of Samarra's past glory, the minaret is all that remains of a mosque built during the Abbasid Islamic dynasty. It is featured on Iraq's 250-dinar bill.
Outside Samarra, Iraqi and U.S. soldiers exchanged gunfire with insurgents during a raid. Iraqi Maj. Gen. Rashid Feleih said five insurgents were killed.
In the holy city of Karbala, Shiite Muslims packed bus stations to head home after a Shiite religious holiday whose participants had been targeted by insurgents. Many pilgrims slept on city streets after Thursday's festival because they feared nighttime attacks on the roads home.
Special security measures remained in place in Karbala, with policemen keeping watch from rooftops and patrolling the streets.
A bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in the northern city of Kirkuk and killed an Iraqi heading to Friday prayers, police official Sarhad Qader said. Three people were wounded.
An explosion was heard near Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone as people hurried home before the nightly curfew. U.S. officials had no immediate information.
In Balad Ruz, 30 miles northeast of the capital, gunmen killed the police chief, Col. Hatim Rashid, and another officer at a police station, police Col. Mudhafar al-Jubouri said. A third officer was injured.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who led uprisings against the U.S.-led coalition last year, called on his supporters to stage a protest in Baghdad on April 9 to mark the second anniversary of U.S. troops entering the capital.
Sheik Hassan al-Edhari, an official at al-Sadr's Baghdad office, said the protesters will demand that the new Iraqi government set a timetable for withdrawing foreign troops and for trying Saddam.
Negotiations continued over who will lead the newly elected National Assembly, as Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani and Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, talked about speeding up the formation of Iraq's new government.
The two discussed the possibility of formally naming Talabani as Iraq's president Sunday during a parliamentary session, said al-Hakim's son and political adviser, Mohsen Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim.
"We're running out of time," he said. "The delay is not in our interest."
Ahmad Chalabi, head of an Iraqi exile group that provided intelligence to the United States on Saddam's weapons programs, praised a U.S. presidential commission's report Thursday that he said cleared his Iraq National Congress.
"We welcome this report as a vindication," Chalabi said in a statement released Friday. "We have consistently stated that the INC played a very small role in U.S. intelligence reporting on Saddam's" weapons of mass destruction.
While the report did say the INC-related sources had a "minimal impact on prewar assessments," it also accused two INC sources of lying to the U.S. government about the use of mobile biological weapons factories to evade inspectors.