Bombings Targeting Iraqi Shi’ites Kill 72 People in South, Capital

Posted January 5th, 2012 at 2:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Iraqi authorities say a series of bombings targeting Shi'ites in the south and the capital has killed at least 72 people and wounded more than 100 others.

In the deadliest incident Thursday, a suicide bomber attacked a group of Shi'ite pilgrims near the southern city of Nasiriyah, killing 45 people and wounding about 70 others.

The pilgrims were walking toward the city of Karbala to participate in next week's observance of Arbaeen, a holy day marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, a revered Shi'ite figure.

Bombings also targeted two Shi'ite neighborhoods of Baghdad.

A bomb attached to a motorcycle blew up near a group of day laborers waiting for work in Sadr City, followed by a second bomb blast in the district. The explosions killed at least 12 people.

About two hours later, two car bombs detonated almost simultaneously in the northern district of Kazimiyah, killing 15 people. At least 30 people were wounded in the Baghdad blasts.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Baghdad military spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said it is too early to identify suspects as investigations into the attacks begin.

Thursday's death toll is the largest in Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew from the country on December 18, ending the U.S. involvement in an eight-year long war. A wave of bombings in mostly Shi'ite areas of Baghdad killed at least 69 people on December 22.

Iraq expert Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told VOA the Iraqi government's efforts to stop the bombings have been undermined by corruption in the security forces.

He said “the moment U.S. and other advisors pulled out, there was a process (in Iraq) of selling promotions and positions in the security services, and the police reverted fairly quickly to locally recruited, locally paid and often corrupt police forces.”

Cordesman, a former U.S. Defense and State Department official, said the Iraqi government also cut back on the modernization and training of its security services due to a sudden dip in its oil revenues in 2008.

Thursday's attacks coincide with a political crisis in Iraq's fragile power-sharing government led by majority Shi'ites with the inclusion of minority Sunnis and Kurds.

Iraq's main Sunni-backed Iraqiya faction has been boycotting parliament and the Cabinet in recent days to protest what it calls a monopolization of power by Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Sectarian tensions within the government also increased last month when Mr. Maliki ordered the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on charges of running a death squad. Hashemi denied the charge and fled to Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region to avoid detention.

In another development, an Iraqi Shi'ite militant group has confirmed that a British bodyguard whom it kidnapped in 2007 is dead. Asaib al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali told the Reuters news agency that his group is prepared to hand over the body of Alan McMenemy without conditions.

McMenemy was one of four British bodyguards kidnapped in Baghdad as they were protecting British computer programmer Peter Moore, who also was taken hostage. The militants released Moore and the bodies of three of the guards in 2009.