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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq ordered a limited curfew in Baghdad on Saturday ahead of a Shi'ite pligrimage, but the measure fell short of a ban on cars and trucks imposed at other religious ceremonies to reduce the risk of bombs.
Iraqi television initially announced a ban on all vehicles, but Brigadier-General Qassim al-Moussawi, the military's security spokesman for Baghdad, later said the ban covered only bicycles, handcarts, animal carts and motorcyles.
"There is no curfew on cars and pedestrians. The curfew is only on handcarts, animal carts, motorcycles and bicycles," he said on Iraqiya state television.
During previous pilgrimages authorities had banned all vehicles to prevent attacks. They did not make clear why they did not think that was necessary for the forthcoming ceremony.
Tens of thousands of Shi'ite pilgrims are expected to converge on the southern holy city of Kerbala next week to mark the birth of Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi, a 9th-century figure Shi'ites believe will return to save mankind.
Hours before the limited curfew was imposed, a car bomb killed seven people and wounded 30 in the mainly Shi'ite northern Baghdad neighbourhood of Kadhimiya.
U.S. President George W. Bush, faced with growing calls to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, pleaded with Americans for patience and said progress was being made on the ground.
"The success of the past couple of months have shown that conditions on the ground can change -- and they are changing," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "We cannot expect the new strategy we are carrying out to bring success overnight."
Washington has sent thousands of additional troops to Iraq this year and moved its forces into neighbourhood outposts.
U.S. officials say the tactic has improved security somewhat, but complain that Iraqi politicians have failed to take steps toward sectarian reconciliation in that time.
Bush has faced growing calls from Democrats and some leading Republicans to begin withdrawing troops. A report due on Sept. 15 by the U.S. ambassador and top military commander in Iraq is expected to prove pivotal in determining U.S. policy.
Shi'ite pilgrimages are major targets for al Qaeda and other Sunni Arab militant groups. Pilgrims walking from Baghdad and other cities to Kerbala are often vulnerable to attack.
The last major Shi'ite religious ceremony was held in Kadhimiya earlier this month when hundreds of thousands of Shi'ites converged on a mosque. A show of force by Iraqi troops and three days of a total vehicle ban prevented major attacks.
U.S. forces said they had found an execution site apparently used by Sunni Arab al Qaeda militants in the Arab Jabour area on the capital's southern outskirts.
"The ground forces found human skulls, decomposing bodies and bones wrapped in bloody clothes. Wild dogs were rampant around the area," the U.S. military said in a statement. "Inside a nearby building, the ground forces found blood spatter and other signs indicating executions had taken place there."
(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim, Wathiq Ibrahim and Ross Colvin in Baghdad and Jeremy Pelofsky in Crawford, Texas)
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