Iraqi Shias targeted in wave of festival raids

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The Independent Online

A series of devastating blasts killed at least 28 people and injured more than 60 in Baghdad yesterday as the Shia community became the target for suicide bombers at the start of the Ashura religious festival.

A series of devastating blasts killed at least 28 people and injured more than 60 in Baghdad yesterday as the Shia community became the target for suicide bombers at the start of the Ashura religious festival.

Violence continued in the rest of the country, with four American soldiers killed in car-bombings and ambushes. The bodies of six Iraqi soldiers who had been abducted and executed were found in Samarra. Two policemen were killed in the same city and two more were found dead in Karbala.

The deaths in the capital came with predictions of more bombs in the coming days of Ashura. About 180 people were killed in the same period last year in Baghdad and Karbala.

The bombs came just days after the announcement of election results showing a clear victory for a Shia coalition that paves the way for a switch of power from the Sunni hierachy for the first time in 100 years.

One of the leaders of the coalition, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, viewed as a contender to be prime minister in the next government, said: "We are expecting attacks might increase today and tomorrow. People were targeted because they were Shias even through they were only practicing their rights."

Razaq Abd Ali, chief of police in Karbala said two million people attended Ashura last year. The celebration had been banned under Saddam Hussein.

Dressed in black for mourning and holding aloft green banners bearing the name Hussein, the martyred grandson of the Prophet, thousands filled central Baghdad for the Ashura march, some of them flailing themselves with chains.

Fear of another such attacks kept some worshippers away this year, as did the dangers of travelling through the so-called triangle of death, an area south of the capital that has seen frequent attacks and kidnappings.

Sheikh Fouad al-Turfi, a spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr, the populist leader of the Mehdi Army militia, said he had decided to stay in Najaf, cancelling a trip to the holy city of Karbala for Ashura because of concern "they will try to throw mortars".

Pilgrims who had made it to Karbala registered no surprise at the news of bombings in Baghdad. "We've gotten used to it; we don't care," said Hussein Lesta.

Yesterday's two suicide bombings on Shia mosques in Baghdad killed 17. Three victims died in a rocket attack aimed at another mosque in the north-west of the capital.

In the first attack, a man wearing a vest packed with explosives blew himself up in the Doura district. Soon afterwards, two other suspects were fired on by the guard as they approached another mosque. Both explosive devices detonated.

"I saw this terrorist and I saw that he was heading towards the mosque," said the guard, Amer Mayah, 24. "He was trying to get two grenades from his pocket. At that time, I opened fire on him and he immediately exploded."

Many of the casualties were taken to Baghdad's al-Yarmouk Hospital. Dr Ahmed Zaher said "We have had people arrive dead and people with very bad wounds. We will not be able to save many of them."

One survivor, Ali al-Aboudi, 37, who had a broken arm and a broken leg, said: " As I went inside the mosque, there were some people being searched. I suddenly heard a huge explosion behind me. There was smoke and people screaming. Later I heard that a man had blown himself up."

Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security advisor, said he believed that the attacks had been carried out at the bequest of the Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There was no immediate response from his group, known as "al-Qa'ida in Iraq".

There were reports yesterday that two Indonesian journalists, a female reporter and a male cameraman, were missing from the city of Ramadi, in central Iraq, which has long been a centre of insurgency. Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, last night made an appeal for their release.

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