Tuesday, February 22, 2005

23 Dead, 90 Wounded in Series of Suicide Attacks in Baghdad

23 Dead, 90 Wounded in Series of Suicide Attacks in Baghdad


Insurgents killed at least 23 people and wounded around 90 in a series of suicide attacks and bombings in Shiite Muslim districts of Baghdad on Saturday, the holiest day of the Shiite religious calendar.

Iraq's security forces had been braced for attacks in the southern holy city of Karbala, where more than 170 pilgrims were killed during the Shiite ritual of Ashoura last year.

But guerrillas targeted the capital, which has borne the brunt of violence since last month's elections.

In the worst attack, a man wearing a vest laden with explosives boarded a bus in the Shiite Khadamiya district and blew himself up, according to witnesses and the U.S. military.

Police said 17 people were killed and 41 wounded in the blast, close to a barrier protecting a Shi'ite mosque.

A Reuters photographer at the scene said bodies were lying in the road, blown apart and burned. The orange bus was torn almost in half and reduced to a burnt wreck.

In a separate attack in the same area, a suicide bomber blew himself up after an exchange of fire with security forces. One U.S. soldier was killed.

Earlier, a suicide bomber on a motorbike attacked a group of people attending the funeral of a woman killed in one of Friday's bombings. Four mourners were killed and 39 wounded, hospital officials said.

While Baghdad was rocked by the blasts, Shiites in Karbala were able to observe Ashoura in relative peace.

Officials said several hundred thousand pilgrims marched through the city's streets, chanting, beating their breasts and crying "Hussein" in honour of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohamad, who died in a battle in 680 A.D.

Some cut themselves with knives in a symbolic act of atonement for Hussein's death.

Traffic was banned around the city to limit the threat of car bombs, and local residents helped set up checkpoints.

This year's Ashoura came days after results from Iraq's Jan. 30 election confirmed Shiites would dominate the new national parliament at the expense of Sunni Arabs who held sway under Saddam Hussein and before.

Shiites have been repeatedly attacked by guerrillas who the government says are trying to spark a sectarian war. Shiite religious leaders have urged restraint from their followers and said they had expected some attacks.

North of Baghdad, a suicide car bomber killed an Iraqi soldier and a civilian at an army base in the mixed Sunni and Shiite city of Baquba, and a roadside bomb killed another Iraqi soldier in the city of Samarra.

There were attacks in Samarra and the northern city of Kirkuk overnight. Among the victims was a prominent Kurdish Islamic figure, Sheikh Mohamad Rustom Abdul-Rahman, who died with his wife when gunmen attacked their car.

Few Sunnis voted in the election, a result of boycotts and intimidation, and will barely be represented in the new 275-seat National Assembly to be inaugurated in the coming weeks.

But Shiite politicians, wary of sectarian tensions, have said Sunnis will play a role in shaping Iraq's new political landscape despite their lack of representation.

The assembly's main task this year will be to draft a constitution under which a new parliamentary election should be held by the end of the year.

The United States is hoping a legitimate Iraqi government can provide for its own security and allow Washington to withdraw its forces, currently numbering some 150,000.

Talks have been going on for two weeks over who will take the top government positions, with Kurds expected to get the presidency and the main Shi'ite bloc the prime minister's post.

The new prime minister will face the daunting challenge of improving security in a country plagued by kidnapping and other crime as well as guerrilla bombings.

Insurgents holding two Indonesian journalists issued a video tape on Friday, demanding Indonesia explain what the pair were doing in Iraq. The president of the world's most populous Muslim nation said they were providing media reports.

originally published 2005/02/19