By Joshua Partlow and Saad Sarhan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 7, 2006; A10
BAGHDAD, July 6 -- A green minibus loaded with explosives detonated Thursday morning amid a crowd of Iranian pilgrims visiting a Shiite Muslim shrine in southern Iraq, killing 14 people and injuring 38 others, according to police and hospital officials.
The attack, on the outskirts of Kufa, about 90 miles south of Baghdad, occurred at about 7:30 a.m., while two busloads of worshipers, many of them visitors from Iran, stepped out to walk to the Maytham al-Tammar shrine, witnesses said. Kufa is near the Shiite holy city of Najaf, a frequent destination for Iranian pilgrims. The suicide bomber parked his minibus between the two other buses before blowing himself up, said Wisan Sameer Kamil, a street vendor who said he saw the attack.
A few hours after the explosion, members of the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia controlled by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, arrived at the scene and tried to cordon the area. A tense standoff ensued between the militia and local police, who fired their guns into the air. Eventually, the police left and the Mahdi Army remained.
Iraqi religious leaders say hundreds of mosques and shrines have been attacked during the war, many since the destruction of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra this year. Thursday's attack came one day after kidnappers who are holding a Sunni Arab parliament member hostage demanded the cessation of violence against Shiite mosques.
Sporadic violence flared up in several other spots across Iraq. In Samarra, home to the revered Askariya shrine destroyed in February, a roadside bomb exploded at a police checkpoint, killing three policemen and seriously wounding a fourth, said Capt. Zuhair Badrani of the Samarra police.
At least 35 bodies turned up in various parts of Baghdad, about half of them in Dora, one of the most violent areas of the capital, police said. Eight more people died after two car bombs reduced several shops in the Washash market in western Baghdad to charred wreckage.
Earlier this week, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV told reporters to expect a rise in car bombings in the coming weeks, particularly in the Baghdad area, because the car bomb is the preferred technique of al-Qaeda in Iraq's new insurgent leader, Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addressed the outrage over the alleged rape and killing by U.S. forces of an Iraqi woman and the killing of three of her family members in the city of Mahmudiyah.
"Our people cannot tolerate that every day there is an ugly crime such as that in Mahmudiyah," Maliki told reporters. "Those in Iraq should not be those who hate or humiliate the dignity of the people."
Maliki repeated his call for a review of the immunity laws that prevent coalition forces from being prosecuted in Iraqi courts. And he said he would discuss the possibility of an Iraqi investigation into the killings.
In a news conference held for Iraqi reporters, Caldwell discussed the incident in more remorseful terms than he had with Western media the day before.
"No one should ever experience such a loss. No one should ever experience such turmoil. We understand this is very painful, confusing and disturbing, not only to the families who lost an innocent loved one but to the Iraqi people as a whole," Caldwell said.
Former Army private Steven D. Green has been charged with rape and murder in the incident, and at least four U.S. soldiers still in Iraq are under investigation.
New accusations of unwarranted killings by U.S. forces emerged Thursday, as Iraqi police in Balad, north of Baghdad, said that two unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. troops. The two people, driving past an American patrol, stopped on the side of the street to wait for the convoy to pass, said Capt. Nabil al-Azzawi, of the Balad police. U.S. soldiers shot the two men while they were in their car, he said.
When Iraqi police arrived on the scene, Azzawi said, U.S. forces told them that civilians had tried to attack the patrol. But Azzawi said no weapons were found in the vehicle.
A U.S. military spokesman said that no reports he could find matched those circumstances. At around 6:30 p.m. near Balad, insurgents in a black minibus shot and killed two people, but coalition forces were not involved, said Maj. William Willhoite.
Maliki also announced that the Iraqi cabinet had decided to take steps to expunge political activity from the country's universities, in an attempt to cut down on sectarian rivalries infiltrating the higher-education system.
The cabinet banned all political posters and slogans and any political-party activity on campuses, he said. The president of Baghdad University, Mosa al-Mosawe, said recently that at his school alone, 50 staff members had been assassinated since the invasion in 2003. In a recent meeting with the minister of higher education, university professors complained about the presence of Shiite militiamen on campus intimidating teachers.
"This is a conspiracy to empty Iraq of its intellectuals, doctors and scholars," Maliki said. "There were several ideas that were discussed to protect those people whom we depend on in the process of building the scientific and civil process."
Special correspondents Bassam Sebti and Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.