By Sudarsan Raghavan and Saad Sarhan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 29, 2008
BAGHDAD, Nov. 28 -- A suicide bomber detonated explosives outside a Shiite mosque south of Baghdad on Friday, police said, killing at least 12 people and injuring 23 a day after Iraqi lawmakers approved a security pact to extend the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
The attack in the city of Musayyib, 40 miles south of the capital, occurred as people were gathered outside the mosque before the start of Friday prayers, witnesses and police said. The mosque is run by loyalists of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
"Suddenly, a huge explosion shook the entire building," said Dawood Ahmad, 23, a worshiper. "Window glass flew in all directions, hitting me in the back. Heavy black smoke filled the main hall. Despite my injury, I rushed outside. I saw bodies lying on the ground, parts of human flesh scattered around. And many screaming for help."
After the prayers, the several hundred worshipers had planned to march in protest against the security agreement, which still requires approval from Iraq's presidency council. The Sadrists have long opposed the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
Sadr issued a statement through his key aides Friday, calling for three days of mourning and peaceful demonstrations against the pact.
No group asserted responsibility for the bombing, but suicide attacks are typically the trademark of Sunni extremists.
The U.S. military said in a statement that eight civilians were killed and 15 wounded.
Last month, the U.S. military handed over control of security in Babil province, which includes Musayyib, to Iraqi forces. The city is predominantly Shiite, but pockets of Sunnis live in villages and on farms in the surrounding area. Both Shiite and Sunni extremists have operated in the area. On July 16, 2005, a suicide bombing killed an estimated 90 people in the city.
In the city of Kufa, also in southern Iraq, about 500 Sadrists carrying black flags and photos of Sadr demonstrated against the pact after Friday prayers. "No, no agreement!" and "Death, death to those who signed the agreement!" they chanted.
"We shall continue to protest the agreement because it does not serve Iraq or its people," said Kadhim Alwan, 25, a protester. "We reject this agreement because we have our own beliefs, and we do not want to be tied down to the West and its culture."
Waad Khazaly, 30, a taxi driver, said Sadr's U.S.-backed rivals had signed the agreement only to "keep their dominance" ahead of provincial elections scheduled for next year.
Before the protest, an influential Sadrist aide said the attack in Musayyib was a result of the security agreement.
"The Iraqi government cannot survive without the U.S. presence, and as long as the Americans remain here, Iraq will be still a battlefield," Abdul Hadi al-Muhammadawi told worshipers at the Kufa mosque.
Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded in a square in central Baghdad, killing two people and wounding 15, police said.
Sarhan reported from Kufa. Special correspondents Zaid Sabah, K.I. Ibrahim and Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.