66 dead in Iraq car bombings targetting Shiite pilgrimage

 

A coordinated wave of car bombs struck Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad and several other cities today, killing at least 65 people and wounding more than 200 in one of the deadliest days in Iraq since US troops withdrew from the country.

The bloodshed comes against a backdrop of political divisions that have raised tensions and threatened to provoke a new round of the violence that once pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war. Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents who frequently target Shiites in Iraq.

Today's blasts were the third this week targetting the annual pilgrimage that sees hundreds of thousands of Shiites converge on a golden-domed shrine in Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Kazimiyah to commemorate the eighth century death of a revered Shiite saint, Imam Moussa al-Kadhim. The commemoration culminates on Saturday.

Puddles of blood and shards of metal clogged a drainage ditch at the site of one of the bombings in the city of Hillah, where hours before pilgrims had been marching. Soldiers and dazed onlookers wandered near the charred remains of the car that had exploded and ripped gaping holes in nearby shops.

Most of the 16 separate explosions that rocked the country targeted Shiite pilgrims in five cities, but two hit offices of political parties linked to Iraq's Kurdish minority in the tense north. Authorities had tightened security ahead of the pilgrimage, including a blockade of the mainly Sunni area of Azamiyah, which is near the twin-domed Shiite shrine.

The level of violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq since peaking in 2006-2007 as the country faced a Sunni-led insurgency and retaliatory sectarian fighting that broke out after the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. But Iraqis still face near-daily attacks and Shiite pilgrimages are often targeted.

Political divisions also have only deepened, paralyzing the country since the Americans withdrew all combat troops in mid-December.

Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been accused of trying to monopolize power, and tensions spiked after Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi — the highest-ranking Sunni in Iraq's leadership — was charged with running death squads. The government began his trial in absentia since al-Hashemi was out of the country, drawing allegations the charges were part of a vendetta by the Shiite-led government.

The political stagnation has set back hopes for stability in Iraq and stalled efforts to rebuild the country after eight years of US occupation.

''These violent acts reflect the depth of the political crisis in the country and the escalation of political differences among blocs," said politician Abdul-Sataar al-Jumaili of the Sunni political bloc Iraqiya.

Baghdad military command spokesman Col. Dhia al-Wakeel said the attacks were intended to reignite all-out sectarian bloodshed, "but Iraqis are fully aware of the terrorism agenda and will not slip into a sectarian conflict."

According to accounts compiled by police and health officials in the targeted areas, the first bomb struck a procession at around 5 am in the town of Taji, north of Baghdad, killing seven people and wounding two others.

That was followed by four more morning blasts that hit other groups of pilgrims across the capital, killing 25 people and wounding more than 70.

South of Baghdad, two car bombs exploded minutes apart at dawn in the center of the mainly Shiite city of Hillah, killing 21 people and wounding 53, according to two police officers and one health worker.

A parked car bomb also exploded near a group of pilgrims in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of Baghdad, at about 8 am, killing two people and wounding 22 others.

In the Shiite town of Balad, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Baghdad, two nearly simultaneous car bombs killed seven pilgrims and wounded 34.

Explosions also targeted Iraqi Kurds in the north.

One person was killed as three blasts rocked the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, one of them outside the local office of Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani's political party.

Another car bomb targeted an office of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the northern city of Mosul, killing two people and wounding four. Two other explosions wounded five people elsewhere in Mosul, about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

The details were reported by officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

The overall toll made it the deadliest day in Iraq since 5 January, when a wave of bombings targeting Shiites killed 78 people in Baghdad and outside the southern city of Nasiriyah.

Shortly after the attacks, al-Maliki chaired a meeting with senior army and police officials to discuss ways to overcome security gaps "used by the terrorists," a statement on the prime minister's website said.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test