Explosions rock Baghdad mosques

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Suicide bombers shattered a mournful day of prayers at two Shiite mosques and a religious procession, killing more than 27 people and wounding dozens more, Iraqi police and witnesses said.

Suicide bombers shattered a mournful day of prayers at two Shiite mosques and a religious procession, killing more than 27 people and wounding dozens more, Iraqi police and witnesses said.

In the first explosion, the bomber entered the vestibule of al-Khadimain mosque in Baghdad's Dora neighbourhood as worshippers inside knelt in prayer before detonating his explosives, said one witness, Hussein Rahim Qassim.

Shortly afterward, a bomb ripped through the Al Bayaa mosque in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in western Baghdad.

Fifteen were killed in the first explosion, and ten in the second, an official at Baghdad's al-Yarmuk Hospital said on condition of anonymity.

Less than an hour later, a suicide bomber blew himself up as a procession of Shiites marking Ashoura passed by, killing two and injuring eight, according to Iraqi police Lt. Waed Hussein.

Shiites packed into mosques today to mark the eve of Ashoura, the 10th day of the Islamic holy month of Muharram and the holiest day of the year for them.

The day's bombings were a bloody reminder of last year's Ashoura commemorations, when twin blasts ripped through crowds of worshippers at Shiite Muslim shrines in Baghdad and Karbala and killed at least 181 people.

Ashoura marks the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, in a 7th century battle for leadership of the Islamic world.

At al-Khadimain mosque the imam used the minaret's loudspeakers today to appeal for donations of blood, said 1st Lt. Ahmad Ali, who also said a suicide bomber was behind the blast.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Iraqis blamed radical Sunni Muslim insurgents, who have staged car bombs, shooting attacks and kidnappings in efforts to destabilise the country's reconstruction and provoke a sectarian civil war between Shiites and Sunnis.

"Those infidel Wahhabis, those Osama bin Laden followers, they did this because they hate Shiites," said Sari Abdullah, a worshipper al-Khadimain who was injured by shrapnel from the explosion. "They are afraid of us, they are not Muslims, they are infidels."

Before the explosions occurred, Shiite leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim gave the sermon at a mosque in another Baghdad suburb, calling on Iraqi Shiites to unite under the banner of the newly-elected National Assembly. His United Iraqi Alliance won 48 percent of the vote and was expected to name the country's next prime minister.

"I address all Iraqis of all national, religious affiliations. I call upon them to unite to confront all conspiracies against Iraq," al-Hakim said. "I want to confirm to all that the Iraq we want is a secure Iraq, an Iraq in which all people without exception feel justice and equality. Yes, yes for unity."

However al-Hakim also insisted on pursuing former Baathists and removing them from power, blaming them for the recent killing of three members of the Iran-backed Badr Brigades, the military wing of Iraq's largest opposition Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq."We warned many times of the dangers of bringing back killers and criminals to the institutions of government, but those concerned did not listen to our warnings and did not take them seriously," al-Hakim said. "So we witnessed because of that many scenes in which the dignity of Iraqis was violated and their blood was spilled, because of some criminals who were brought back to the security system."

Interim Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi warned on Thursday of the dangers of pursuing the de-Baathification of government institutions.

Allawi told The Associated Press that the alliance must change its platform of purging Sunnis who were members of Saddam's Baath Party from government positions if it wants national unity.

"The alliance talks about de-Baathification. I hope if they get control and they're chosen to be the ones running the country, I sincerely hope that they revisit these issues in their program and re-discuss it with a view of having reconciliation and national unity," Allawi said.

"We cannot afford in this country, for now, to go on a route different to that of national unity," said Allawi, who spoke English in the interview. Otherwise, "it will throw the country into problems, severe problems."

Because a two-thirds majority in the 275-member parliament is required for confirming the top positions in the new government, the United Iraqi Alliance will have to make deals with the other parties. The alliance won 140 seats, while Kurdish parties got 75, secular Shiites took 40 and nine smaller parties shared 20, the final returns of the January 30 elections showed.