Bloodbath in Iraq


Wednesday  March 3, 2004

Naseer Al-Nahr, Arab News Staff

BAGHDAD, 3 March 2004 — A wave of suicide bombings and mortar attacks on Shiite shrines in Baghdad and Karbala yesterday killed at least 182 people.

US officials and Iraqi leaders named an Al-Qaeda-linked Jordanian militant, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, as a “prime suspect” for the attacks, saying he seeks to spark a Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq to wreck US plans to hand over power to the Iraqis on June 30.

But some outraged Shiites lashed out at US forces, accusing them of not maintaining security. The blasts fan the community’s fears and anger at a time when leaders of Iraq’s Shiite majority are pressing for more power in a future government after years of oppression under Saddam Hussein.

The devastating blasts came on the final day of the 10-day Shiite mourning of Ashoura.

The US military said three suicide bombers killed 70 people in Baghdad around the Kazimiya Mosque, and a suicide bomber, mortars and concealed bombs combined to kill at least 112 in Karbala, 110 km (68 miles) to the south. More than 400 were injured in the two cities.

The toll could have been higher. A fourth suicide bomber was captured at Kazimiya after his explosives failed to detonate. Police in the southern city of Basra discovered two women strapped with explosives marching in an Ashoura procession, and other bombs were found near Shiite mosques in Basra and Najaf.

“The terrorists want sectarian violence because they believe that is the only way they can stop Iraq’s march toward the democracy that the terrorists fear,” Iraq’s top US administrator L. Paul Bremer said in a statement. “They will lose because the Iraqi people want and will have democracy, freedom and a sovereign Iraqi government.”

Members of Iraq’s US-appointed Governing Council quickly tried to quiet any sectarian divisions. In a sign of unity, Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish council representatives appeared before journalists urging Iraqis to “maintain unity” to “cheat our enemies of the chance to inflict evil on the nation.”

“This was a clear and tragically well organized act of terrorism,” Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy chief of operations for the US Army in Iraq, told a news conference.

He said a man strapped with explosives had been apprehended near the Baghdad mosque — the capital’s holiest Shiite shrine — and several people had been arrested in Kerbala. Kimmitt said they would be interrogated to see who was behind the attacks.

But much of the outrage of Shiites was directed at the Americans, blaming them for not keeping security or for stirring up violence in Iraq with the occupation.

Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani blamed the US-led forces for failing to secure the country’s borders and called for unity. “We put responsibility on the occupation forces for the noticeable procrastination in controlling the borders of Iraq and preventing infiltrators, and not strengthening Iraqi national forces and supplying them with the necessary equipment to their jobs,” Sistani said in a statement.

A mob assaulted US troops and medics who tried to control crowds and help wounded at Kazimiya, pelting them with a hail of stones and forcing their convoy of Humvees back into a nearby walled outpost.

At least 22 Iranians were among those killed in Karbala. Iran’s Deputy Interior Minister Ali Asghar Ahmadi told state television dozens more Iranians had survived with injuries in Karbala. He said he was still awaiting information on Iranian casualties from the blasts in Baghdad.

— Additional input from agencies


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