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Iraq Blasts Target Shiites on Holy Day

By Doug Struck and Bassam Sebti
Washington Post Foreign Service

BAGHDAD Feb. 18-- Suicide bombers approached two Shiite mosques Friday, mingled among worshipers at religious rites and then set off blasts that killed at least 16 people in fresh attempts to ignite sectarian discord in Iraq.

Those attacks, at two different Baghdad mosques, were followed by a separate mortar attack near a crowd of worshipers that killed at least three other people, according to police.

Victims of Friday's Khadimain mosque explosion are taken to the al-Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad, where the bodies are claimed by relatives. (Mohammed Uraibi - AP)

Insurgents Attacks on Iraqi Citizens
From Associated Press at 11:25 AM

Here are some of the deadliest insurgent attacks in Iraq targeting Iraqi citizens:

  • Feb. 8, 2005: A suicide bomber blows himself up in the middle of a crowd of army recruits, killing 21.
  • Dec. 19, 2004: Car bombs tear through a Najaf funeral procession and Karbala's main bus station, killing at least 60 and wounding more than 120 in the two Shiite holy cities.
  • Sept. 30, 2004: Bombings in Baghdad's al-Amel neighborhood kill 35 children and seven adults as U.S. troops hand out candy at a government ceremony inaugurating a new sewage treatment plant.
  • Sept. 14, 2004: A car bomb rips through a busy market near a Baghdad police headquarters where Iraqis wait to apply for jobs, and gunmen open fire on a van carrying police home from work in Baqouba, killing at least 59 total and wounding at least 114.
  • Aug. 26, 2004: A mortar barrage slams into a mosque filled with Iraqis preparing to march on the embattled city of Najaf, killing 27 and wounding 63.
  • July 28, 2004: A suicide car bomb devastates a busy street in Baqouba, killing 70.
  • April 21, 2004: Five blasts near police stations and a police academy in southern city of Basra kill at least 55.
  • March 2, 2004: Coordinated blasts strike Shiite Muslim shrines in Karbala and in Baghdad, killing at least 181.
  • Feb. 11, 2004: Suicide attacker blows up a car packed with explosives in a crowd of Iraqis waiting outside a Baghdad army recruiting center, killing 47.
  • Feb. 10, 2004: Suicide bomber explodes a truckload of explosives outside a Iskandariyah police station, killing 53.
  • Feb. 1, 2004: Twin suicide bombers kill 109 in two Kurdish party offices in Irbil.
  • Oct. 27, 2003: Four suicide bombings target international Red Cross headquarters and four Iraqi police stations in Baghdad, killing 40, mostly Iraqis.
  • Aug. 29, 2003: A car bomb explodes outside mosque in Najaf, killing more than 85, including Shiite leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim.
  • Aug. 19, 2003: A truck bomb explodes outside the U.N. headquarters building in Baghdad, killing 23, including U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

  • Late in the day, a car bomb exploded at a Shiite mosque about 30 miles south of Baghdad, the Associated Press reported. Doctors at the scene told the news agency that seven people were killed and 10 wounded.

    At one of the Baghdad mosques, alert guards opened fire on three suspicious strangers as they approached the doors of the mosque. All three were wearing bombs which exploded, but the fast action limited fatalities to one at that location, according to police and eyewitnesses.

    The attacks Friday were timed to disrupt the Shiite religious observance of Ashura, which commemorates the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson in a battle near present-day Karbala in 662 A.D. During last year’s Ashura, a string of bombings in Karbala and Baghdad killed at least 170 people. The event, which includes processions and ritual self-flagellation, culminates Saturday.

    Separately, the U.S. military announced the death of a soldier Friday and the wounding of two others in the town of Balad, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle while they were on a patrol.

    Both of the targeted mosques are frequented by followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. The selection was apparently an attempt to inflame his supporters to pick up the weapons that have laid idle since uprisings last year against the Americans by Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

    "Whoever is trying to do this wants to create civil war," said Ali Hussein, 39, a laborer at the site of one of the blasts. "They couldn’t stop the elections. They know if a civil war will start, no one will be able to stop it."

    A tenacious insurgency in Iraq has claimed thousands of lives, targeting westerners, government workers, security forces, and numerous Shiite Muslim sites.

    The Shiites, who are the majority in Iraq and are on the verge of taking power in a new government, have refrained from responding to the attacks with violence that could lead to fighting between the sects.

    Security for the religious observance was intensified, with guards at every mosque and police checkpoints throughout Baghdad. The precautions prompted insurgents to abandon their typical method of using car bombs, instead outfitting followers with vests laden with explosives.

    The first blast occurred as prayers began in at the Khadimain mosque in Dora, a working class neighborhood of Shiites and Sunnis in south Baghdad.

    "A suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt came in an mixed with the guards who were searching the people who came to worship," said Iraqi Army Sergeant Arias Hashim, at the scene. When he was challenged, he exploded his vest.

    "I was inside the mosque, listening to the preachers, and suddenly we heard the sound of the blast," said Anjad Sabah, 28, a worshiper wearing black in traditional mourning for the rite.

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