Suicide bombers kill at least 60 Iraqis at Shiite shrine


BAGHDAD — In the second day in a row of heavy violence in Iraq, at least 60 people died Friday when two suicide bombers detonated within seconds of each other outside a Shiite Muslim shrine in Baghdad.

Violence in Iraq has been creeping up steadily since March or so. In Baghdad alone, there've been at least 35 explosions so far this month.

More than 80 people died in two suicide attacks Thursday, one in Baghdad and another in the northeastern province of Diyala. The resurgent sectarian violence is raising concerns that security in Iraq is deteriorating just as the United States prepares to draw down its forces and shift its focus to the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Under an agreement signed last year between Iraq and the U.S., American troops must leave Iraqi cities by the end of June, and President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw most Americans from Iraq by late 2010. Officials in both governments, however, have said the pullback might be delayed in areas where violence remains high.

Friday's explosions occurred just before noon at a holy site in the capital's Khadamiyah neighborhood that marks the grave of Mousa al Kadhim, a Shiite imam. Crowds were gathered for Friday prayers when the bombers struck, and at least 125 people were wounded, police said.

"There were piles of bodies," said Hammad Faisel, 27, a witness. "I saw a man running after the explosions to get away, but he quickly fell. I watched him die."

Several victims and witnesses said they blamed the recent bombings on al Qaida in Iraq. The U.S. military has said it thinks that the group's ability to carry out major attacks has been reduced severely, but the renewed violence could indicate otherwise.

"The source of this is well-known," said Ali Faisel, 33. "It's al Qaida. They want to provoke sectarian problems and ruin the security situation."

Witnesses said that at least one of the bombers was female, and that she shouted, "God is great," in Arabic just before detonating.

Victims and frantic people searching for loved ones overwhelmed the nearby Khadamiyah Teaching Hospital, where most of the wounded were taken.

Abdul al Ala, 16, lay in a hospital bed with his head bandaged. He was shopping for a cell phone near the shrine when the bombers detonated.

"I fell down and saw glass fly everywhere," he said. "Then someone picked me up and put me in a car. That's all I remember."

Ahmed Zuheir, 37, sat on a bed nearby rocking a crying, bloodied little boy.

"I just came to visit a friend, and then all these victims came in," he said. "No one can find this boy's family. We think they are all dead, so I'm staying with him for now."

"I blame the national police," said Saddam Rasool, a guard at the shrine. "They are supposed to protect the entrances of our neighborhood. How could two suicide bombers get in?"

(Hammoudi is a McClatchy special correspondent. Reilly reports for the Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star.)


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