Attacks Targeting Shi’ite Pilgrims Kill 72 in Iraq

Posted June 13th, 2012 at 6:20 pm (UTC-5)
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At least 72 people have been killed in a coordinated wave of attacks across Iraq targeting Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims gathered for an annual religious commemoration. Nearly 260 other people were wounded in one of the bloodiest days since U.S. troops withdrew from the country.

Most of the bombs exploded in Baghdad and the southern Iraqi cities of Hilla, Karbala and Haswa – predominantly Shi'ite areas that have been targeted before by Sunni Islamist insurgents.

Colonel Dhia Al Wakeel, a spokesman for Baghdad Operations Command, briefed the U.S.-based and funded Arabic language TV channel Al Hurra on the situation in the capital.

“Car bomb explosions hit in three areas across Baghdad. The first in Nahrawan district, the second an area near the northern gate, and the third – a truck bomb – directly hit pilgrims who had gathered in Baghdad's Khadamiya district.

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Officials say nearly 30 people were killed by the three blasts and by another militant attack at a base in southern Baghdad. Pilgrims were marching in Baghdad to mark the anniversary of the death of revered Shi'ite religious figure Imam Moussa al-Kadhim, a great-grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

In Hilla, two car bombs left at least 20 people dead and nearly 40 injured. A parked car bomb also exploded near pilgrims in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala, killing two and wounding 22 others. Other explosions targeted Iraqi Kurds in the north.

The pilgrimage culminates on Saturday, raising the prospect of further violence in the coming days.

The latest bombings and shootings coincide with an Iraqi political crisis in which minority Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers have been trying to unseat Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, accusing him of monopolizing power in Shi'ite hands.

Baghdad's central government is also caught in a long-running fight with the autonomous Kurdistan region over disputed land and oil claims. One Iraqi citizen in Kirkuk said he fears the “political stalemate” is affecting the security situation.

“Politicians should be wise because really political stalemate has affected the Iraqi street and the [entire] security situation in the country.”

No group has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attacks. But a Baghdad-based reporter for VOA's Kurdish Service said it is likely that the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization that includes al-Qaida's local affiliate, is trying to exploit the country's political turmoil.

He said the bloodshed is not likely to stop pilgrims from making their journeys to Shi'ite holy sites. Iraqi security forces are on high alert, with curfews declared in some cities.

Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi condemned the attacks as an attempt “to provoke sectarian strife.”

The targeting of Shi'ite pilgrims was a common tactic during the vicious civil war that tore Iraq apart in 2006 and 2007.

Violence in Iraq has declined since then, but attacks remain common, especially in Baghdad.