Blasts Kill 125 at Iraq Shiite Shrines
By TAREK AL-ISSAWI and HAMZA HENDAWI
The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 2, 2004; 9:30 AM
KARBALA, Iraq - Simultaneous explosions ripped through crowds of worshippers Tuesday at Shiite Muslim shrines in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala, killing at least 125. It was the bloodiest day since the end of major fighting.
The blasts came during the Shiite festival of Ashoura and coincided with a shooting and bomb attack on Shiite worshippers in Quetta, Pakistan that killed at least 29 people and wounded more than 150.
Police and witnesses said the Iraqi blasts were caused by explosives planted near holy sites in Karbala and the Kazimiya shrine in Baghdad, though some people blamed suicide bombers.
"We were standing there (next to the mosques) when we heard an explosion. We saw flesh, arms legs, more flesh. Then the ambulance came," said Tarar, an 18-year-old in Karbala who gave only one name.
The attacks produced a wave of Shiite outrage - much of it directed at U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital. American soldiers who arrived at Kazimiya were attacked by angry crowds throwing stones and garbage, injuring two Americans.
"This is the work of Jews and American occupation forces," a loudspeaker outside Kazimiya blared. Inside, cleric Hassan Toaima told an angry crowd, "We demand to know who did this so that we can avenge our martyrs."
U.S. intelligence officials had been concerned about the possibility of militant attacks during Ashoura. Last month, U.S. officials released what they said was a letter by Jordanian militant Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi outlining a strategy of spectacular attacks on Shiites, aimed at sparking a Sunni-Shiite civil war.
Iraq's Governing Council blamed the attacks on "terrorists" trying to enflame sectarian divisions in the country.
In a show of unity, Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish council representatives appeared before journalists, calling on Iraqis to be calm "in order to cheat our enemies of the chance to inflict evil on the nation."
Council member Adnan Pachachi suggested that the signing of a newly agreed interim constitution, expected on Wednesday, would be delayed until after a three-day period of national mourning.
Also Tuesday, insurgents threw a grenade into a Army Humvee as it drove down a Baghdad road, killing one 1st Armored Division soldier and wounding a second. The death brings to 548 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the United States launched the Iraq war in March. Most have died since President Bush declared an end to active combat May 1.
The blasts in Karbala killed 50 to 60 people, said Adel Abdel-Mahdi, a senior member of a Shiite political party represented on the governing council. The nearly simultaneous bombings in Baghdad killed at least 75 people, he said. Hundreds were wounded in both cities.
In Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, five large blasts went off shortly after 10 a.m. near the golden-domed shrine of Imam Hussein, one of Shiite Islam's most beloved saints, and another shrine. The explosions hurled bodies in all directions and sent crowds of pilgrims fleeing in panic.
Dead and wounded were loaded onto wooden carts normally used to ferry elderly pilgrims to holy sites. Bodies ripped apart by the force of the blasts lay on the streets.
© 2004 The Associated Press