32 Shiite pilgrims killed in Iraq as violence once again mounts

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 13, 2009 

BAGHDAD – A suicide bomber killed almost three dozen Shiite Muslim pilgrims Friday while they were en route to a holy site in central Iraq, marking the third straight day of intense violence.

The bombing came as officials prepared plan to release final election results next week. Earlier attacks targeted politicians and others.

Thirty two pilgrims were killed and 55 were wounded Friday at noon when a suicide bomber blew herself up near a shrine in Musayyib, a mostly Shiite city 35 miles south of Baghdad, police said. Most of the victims were women and children.

The attack on Friday was the deadliest of its kind since a woman detonated a suicide belt on Jan. 4 in northern Baghdad. As many as 40 people died in that incident and another 76 were injured.

In the past three days, car bombings, political assassinations, and suicide attacks, including the Musayyib suicide bomber, have claimed the lives of at least 66 people. The spike in violence comes after a stretch of relative calm following five years of sectarian warfare.

Much to the relief of many Iraqis, provincial elections on Jan. 31 passed without major violence – widely attributed to recent security gains made in the country. But the vote's pending outcome could be exacerbating tensions between rival sects and politicians. The political party of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki enjoys a comfortable lead in preliminary results.

In Mosul, a volatile city to the north where Iraqi security forces have yet to secure control, sectarian tensions between Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds have been the worrisome norm of late.

In the past few days, Mosul has seen a mounting death toll. Among the dead: Four policemen, one Sunni politician, one civilian, and an Iraqi soldier. And on Monday, four American soldiers and their interpreter were killed at a checkpoint when a vehicle with a makeshift explosive blew up nearby.

Mosul, Iraq's largest city to the north, has had a mostly Kurdish government oversee its Arab majority. But the Kurdish parties in power were defeated in the recent election by the Sunni Arab nationalist party al Hadbaa with 48.8 percent of the vote.

The attacks targeting Sunnis and others in the north coincide with a spate of attacks directed at the millions of Shiite Muslim pilgrims heading to the holy shrines of Karbala, where they will mourn Imam Hussein as part of a sacred holiday. Just on Thursday, a propane tank placed blew up in a crowded area in central Karbala; 7 died and 35 were injured. On Wednesday, 16 died and 43 were wounded when a pair of car bombs tore through a marketplace and bus depot in a Shiite neighborhood in south Baghdad.

Four others, including a pilgrim and two policemen, have died in separate attacks.

Trenton Daniel is a staff writer for The Miami Herald. McClatchy special correspondent Qassim Zein in Najaf contributed to this report.

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