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MIDEAST > Iraq bombs kill over 70

BAGHDAD

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A wave of bombings targeting Shiites in Iraq killed 72 people yesterday, as the country grapples with a political row that has stoked sectarian tensions for weeks.

The violence has wounded more than 100 and is the worst outbreak since 67 people died Dec. 22, 2011, soon after the crisis erupted when Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was charged with running a hit squad and U.S. troops pulled out.

The coordinated attacks targeting Shiites bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaeda, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The bombings began early in the morning when explosions struck two Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, killing at least 27 people. A few hours later, a suicide attack hit Shiite pilgrims making their way to the holy Shiite city of Karbala, leaving 45 people dead, said provincial official Quosay al-Abadi. The explosions took place near Nasiriyah, about 320 km southeast of Baghdad. Hospital officials confirmed the causalities.

The blasts occurred in the run-up to Arbaeen, a Shiite holy day marking the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure. During this time, Shiite pilgrims from across Iraq make their way to Karbala, south of Baghdad.

Baghdad military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the aim of the attacks was “to create turmoil among the Iraqi people.” He said it was too early to say who was behind the bombings.
The new violence will only exacerbate the country’s political crisis, pitting politicians from the Shiite majority who dominate the government against the Sunni minority that reigned supreme under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government issued an arrest warrant for the country’s top Sunni politician last month. The Sunni official al-Hashemi is currently imprisoned in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north, effectively out of reach of state security forces.

Fears have already been running high that the sectarian tensions could reignite Shiite-Sunni warfare that just a few years ago pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war. The attacks began in Baghdad with the explosion of a bomb attached to a motorcycle near a bus stop where day laborers gather to look for work in the Shiite Sadr City neighborhood. One of those who witnessed the attack said it filled the area with thick black smoke.

“People have real fears the cycle of violence might be revived in this country,” said Tariq Annad, a 52-year-old government employee who lives nearby.

The attack was followed by the explosion of a roadside bomb. Police found a third bomb nearby and defused it. The two Sadr City blasts killed 12 people, according to police and medical officials.

Less than two hours later, two explosions rocked the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah in the north of the capital, killing 15 people. Officials said the Kazimiyah blasts occurred almost simultaneously, with at least one caused by a car bomb. Simultaneous explosions are a tactic frequently used by the Sunni insurgents against Shiites. Hospital officials confirmed more than 60 causalities from the four blasts.
Iraqi politicians remain deadlocked in a festering political crisis threatening to reignite simmering sectarian tensions in the country. Al-Maliki’s main political rival, the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, is boycotting Parliament sessions and Cabinet meetings to protest what they say are efforts by the government to consolidate power and marginalize them.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.

January/06/2012

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