Suicide Bombing in Northern Iraq, Series of Blasts in Baghdad Kill at Least 50

By Ernesto Londoño and Dlovan Brwari
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 8, 2009

BAGHDAD, Aug. 7 -- A suicide bombing outside a mosque in northern Iraq and a string of bombings in Baghdad targeting Shiite pilgrims killed at least 50 people Friday, Iraqi officials said, in a grim reminder of the insurgency's continuing ability to sow bloodshed despite recent security gains.

The deadliest attack occurred outside a Shiite mosque in Shrekhan, a suburb of the northern city of Mosul, as noontime Friday prayers were beginning, Iraqi police officials said.

The attacks marked one of the deadliest days in Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraqi cities June 30. Violence increased slightly this spring, but July was among the least violent months since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

At least 38 people were killed in the blast near Mosul and 140 were injured, Iraqi officials said. Officials said the death toll was likely to rise because people were still trapped under rubble.

Zuhair Mohsin Mohammed, the mayor of Mosul, said many people at the mosque were attending a funeral when the bombing occurred. He said the assailant, driving a Kia truck, got through a checkpoint by telling guards he was there to pay condolences to the dead person's relatives.

"When he got close, the car exploded," the mayor said, adding that at least 14 houses near the mosque were destroyed.

Hussein Abbas Farhat, 34, a farmer who was inside the mosque, said he struggled to flee the collapsed building. "I was screaming, but I couldn't even hear myself scream," he said. "I don't know why our area was targeted. We are ordinary people, farmers. We stay away from politics."

Mosul is among the most restive cities in Iraq. Sunni insurgent groups are trying to strengthen their foothold there as U.S. troops draw down from urban areas. Since June 30, officials in Nineveh province, which includes Mosul, have sharply limited the movement of U.S. troops in the city.

Also Friday, at least 12 people were killed in bombings targeting Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad, Iraqi police officials said. The deadliest, in Hamza Square, in the eastern district of Sadr City, killed three people and wounded eight.

A roadside bomb that detonated near Shaab Stadium, also in eastern Baghdad, killed two pilgrims and wounded nine, and another that exploded in Mudhafar Square, also in Sadr City, killed one person and wounded seven.

The pilgrims were on their way home from the holy city of Karbala, in southern Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of Shiites traveled in recent days to commemorate the birth of Muhammad al-Mahdi, a revered figure in Shiite Islam.

On Friday night, a fourth explosion killed at least six people in western Baghdad, including three policemen, Iraqi officials said. The explosives had been planted on a motorcycle.

U.S. military officials said they had expected attacks in Iraq to increase after the June 30 withdrawal as insurgents attempted to create the impression that American forces had retreated under fire. But the level of attacks has been lower than they were bracing for, they said, adding that the intermittent nature of recent mass-casualty attacks suggests the insurgency is crippled.

Sunni insurgents have vowed to continue carrying out attacks as long as U.S. troops are in Iraq. The groups are also seeking to undermine the country's Shiite-led government.

Attacks on observant Shiites in 2006 and 2007 unleashed a vicious cycle of sectarian violence. Recent attacks on Shiites, however, have not been followed by retaliatory attacks on Sunnis.

Brwari reported from Mosul. Special correspondents Zaid Sabah, Aziz Alwan and Qais Mizher in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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