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Attacks on Shiite mosque, wedding kill 21

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Fourteen people were killed when a car bomb exploded Friday outside a Shiite Muslim mosque in Baghdad, as worshippers handed gifts to children in celebration of a Muslim holiday that teaches sacrifice.

Another 40 were injured, including seven children.

In a second attack, a suicide bomber driving an ambulance detonated explosives at a Shiite wedding in Yousifiyah, just south of the capital. That blast killed seven people and injured another 16, including the bride and groom.

The attack on the Shiite mosque was part of an ongoing assault on a branch of Islam that probably will make big gains in the nation's Jan. 30 elections, taking control of the country after decades of rule by Sunni Muslims, who are in the minority in Iraq.

Mothers fainted at the sight of their dead children outside the mosque, and on the street, parts of the detonated car and children's shoes were soaked in blood. The engine landed inside the mosque.

Worshippers had come to the Shouhada al Taf mosque to celebrate the Festival of the Sacrifice, the day when, according to Islam, Abraham demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice everything to God, even his son.

After the bombing, some of the tattered election-campaign posters torn off the walls were splattered with blood.

Voters will choose 275 National Assembly members, whose primary task will be to draft the nation's constitution.

Shiites are generally eager to participate in the election, particularly after Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani issued a fatwa, or religious edict, telling his followers to vote. Many Sunnis have called the process illegitimate because, they say, violence in their communities makes voting there too dangerous.

According to those at the scene hours after the attack, worshippers had tried to protect the mosque by blocking the road with cars. As some worshippers were leaving, the cars were moved out of the way. A suicide bomber in a white Chevrolet Caprice then rushed through the opening, they said.

In a video posted on a Web site, terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for beheading two Iraqis who worked at a U.S. base. On the tape, the group said it executed the men because they "sold their religion and honor for the pleasures of life"

In an audiotape released Thursday, al Zarqawi blasted Shiites for participating in the election, comments that many believe worsened the growing sectarianism between the Sunni and Shiite populations.

Al-Zarqawi accused Shiites, including Sistani, of fighting alongside American forces during their November attack on Fallujah, a Sunni stronghold that many believed housed Zarqawi's operation.

He said his group's attacks were part of a holy war that "could last months and years."

In other developments, Iraqi Vice President Rowsch Nuri Shaways traveled to Beijing and promised the Chinese government that his nation would try to find eight Chinese nationals who were captured earlier this week.

A group calling itself the Islamic Resistance Movement claimed it was holding the Chinese drivers and said the Chinese government must issue a statement saying it wouldn't allow its citizens to work for Americans in Iraq, or the group would execute the drivers.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.