40 killed as suicide bombers target Shiah

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The Independent Online

Three suicide bombers targeted the poor Shiah in the town of Balad north of Baghdad yesterday evening killing 40 people and wounding many others.

The attack took place at dusk in Balad, an agricultural town, when three cars were exploded by their drivers near a bank and beside a vegetable market. Dr Khaled al-Azawi at Balad hospital said that many of the injured suffered from serious burns and mutilated limbs.

The savage attack on Shiah Arabs is evidently aimed at provoking a backlash against the Sunni that would disrupt the peaceful take-over of government by the Shiah-Kurdish alliance. Last week over 100 Shiah were killed when a bomb exploded amid day labourers seeking work in al-Khadamiyah district in Baghdad.

There are signs of a death squad within the police killing former Baath party members and Sunni but most of sectarian murders have been against Shiah by Sunni.

Five US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, a centre of the Sunni insurgency west of Baghdad. Their deaths bring to 1,934 the number of US servicemen to have died in Iraq since the US invasion in March2003. A further 14,600 have been wounded, about half of them seriously.

The Shia are being held back from retaliating by their most influential leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf and Muqtada al-Sadr, the cleric who leads a religious nationalist movement with a powerful militia.

Divisions between the Sunni and the Shia are likely to increase because of the referendum on the constitution that is to take place on 15 October. Al-Sadr, despite misgivings about a federal Iraq, is likely to stay neutral making it unlikely that the Sunni alone can muster the two-thirds majority of votes cast in three provinces necessary to stop the constitution becoming law.

The five million Sunni, once the dominant community, are feeling increasingly threatened and isolated. US troops yesterday raided the houses of two of their leaders including Adnan al-Dulaimi, secretary general of the Conference for Iraq's people, who said that helicopters had circled overhead. "It was as if they were attacking a castle, not the home of a normal person who advises the interim government and has called for reconciliation and renounced sectarianism," he complained. Several of his bodyguards were arrested.

The Sunni Arab leaders are also worried the the government is planning to launch military assaults against their cities such as Ramadi, Samarra and Baquba. This is being forecast by some members of the government and denied by others.