17 killed in Baghdad bombs

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The Independent Online

Seventeen people were killed in bomb attacks across Iraq's capital, Baghdad, today, including Iranian pilgrims near a revered shrine and shoppers at a Shia neighbourhood market, authorities said.

The attacks — several roadside bombs and cars packed with explosives — wounded more than 100 people. Most of the casualties were likely Shia Muslims, a frequent target of Sunni insurgents who have long sought to provoke civil war in Iraq.

Police said the deadliest strike targeted a marketplace in Baiyaa, a Shia district in southwestern Baghdad. A car parked outside a shopping area exploded around midday, killing six people and wounding 42. Hospital officials confirmed the casualties.

An hour earlier, near-simultaneous blasts hit two groups of Iranian pilgrims near the gold-domed Moussa al-Kadhim mosque in the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, according to security forces. A pair of bombs killed five pilgrims resting near the shrine. A car exploded next to a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims in the nearby Shia area of Shula, killing another three people.

Police and medical officials said those two attacks wounded 52 people.

"Seeing many seriously wounded women and children made me forget about my wounds and rush to help," said Ali Shalal, 24, a college student who was hit in the eye by shrapnel by the bomb in Shula. "We were told to stay away fearing more bombings."

Attacks by Sunni extremists on Shia pilgrims and Iraqi Shiites helped fuel a surge of violence between the two main Islamic sects during the height of Iraq's bloodshed between 2005 and 2007, as the insurgency against U.S. forces gave way to sectarian fighting.

Shiite pilgrims — the vast majority of whom hail from Iran — come from all over the world to visit shrines and mosques in Iraq that are revered by Shiites.

Earlier, police said a roadside bomb targeting a judge's security convoy in downtown Baghdad killed three people, including two guards, and wounded seven passers-by. The judge was not in the convoy as it drove through Karradah, an area of mixed-ethnicity.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

The bombings came as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle led a group of German lawmakers and business leaders on a one-day trip to Iraq for meetings with senior leaders, including President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Westerwelle told reporters after talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari that Berlin considers Iraq "an important partner, and we are determined to continue this support."

Germans vigorously opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq but began boosting relations after President Barack Obama, a Democrat, took over for President George W. Bush, a Republican who pushed for the war.