Iraqi bomb attacks targeting Shias kill over 70


BAGHDAD – Bombers struck at Shia pilgrims celebrating a religious festival in Baghdad and across Iraq yesterday, killing more than 70 people in one of the bloodiest days since the last US troops withdrew from the country in December.

The bombings appeared to be the work of Sunni insurgents who often hit Shia targets to try to reignite the intercommunal violence that killed tens of thousands of people in 2006 to 2007.

With the government’s Sunni, Shia and ethnic Kurdish parties already locked in a crisis that threatens to shatter their delicate powersharing agreement, the attacks revived fears that Iraq risked sliding back into sectarian bloodshed.

It was the worst day of violence since early January, when four bombs in Baghdad killed 73 people, and the latest in a spate of bombings on Shia religious sites.

At least 30 people were killed when four blasts hit pilgrims across Baghdad as they marched through the city to mark the anniversary of the death of Shia imam Moussa al-Kadhim, a great-grandson of the prophet Muhammad. One car bomb exploded outside a Shia mosque while another blast tore into groups of pilgrims as they rested at refreshment tents along the route to a shrine in Kadhimiya district.

“A group of pilgrims were walking and passed by a tent offering food and drinks when suddenly a car exploded near them,” said Wathiq Muhana, a policeman who was stationed near the blast.

“People were running away covered with blood and bodies were scattered on the ground.”

In a separate attack in the mainly Shia southern city of Hilla, police said two simultaneous car bombs, including one detonated by a suicide bomber, exploded outside restaurants used by security forces, killing 22 people.

“When a minibus packed with policemen stopped near the restaurants, a car exploded near the bus,” said Maitham Sahib, owner of a restaurant near the blast. “It’s heartbreaking. It is just sirens, and screams of wounded people.”

Iraq’s renewed violence and political tensions will be closely watched by Sunni Gulf neighbours, and their rival, Shia power Iran, who have meddled in Baghdad’s politics in the past as they compete for regional influence.

In total, more than 21 bombs exploded yesterday in Baghdad and the southern Iraqi cities of Kerbala, Balad and Haswa, which are predominantly Shia areas that have been targeted before by Sunni Islamist insurgents.

Just as the pilgrims began arriving in Baghdad on Sunday, at least six people were killed and 38 wounded when two mortar bombs struck a packed square in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district.

Earlier this month, 26 people were killed and more than 190 wounded when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-rigged car outside a Shia religious office in Baghdad, an attack claimed by al-Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq.

While violence has fallen sharply since the height of the war that followed the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, insurgents are still potent.

Large bombings generally still hit once a month, usually on security forces, government offices or Shia targets. But since December, when the last US troops left, political tensions have also been on the rise. Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is fending off attempts by Sunni, Kurdish and some Shia rivals to organise a vote of no confidence against him. Critics accuse him of failing to fulfil promises to share government posts among the blocks. – (Reuters)