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At least 43 killed across Baghdad in attacks aimed at Shiite pilgrims

By Leila Fadel and Jinan Hussein
Washington Post staff writers
Thursday, July 8, 2010; A06

BAGHDAD -- At least 43 people were killed and 169 wounded in attacks across the capital Wednesday as hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims walked to a shrine where a revered holy figure is buried, part of the latest push by militants to destabilize the nation at a time of political uncertainty.

The worst attack, in the Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Adhamiyah, killed at least 28 and wounded at least 68 when a man blew himself up in a crowd of pilgrims heading to the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim, according to Iraqi security forces.

The incidents occurred as political negotiations slowly continue for a new government four months after Iraq's parliamentary elections. Violence has dropped significantly since the height of the sectarian fighting that erupted in 2006, but some worry it will increase as the U.S. military draws down to 50,000 troops in the country by Sept. 1.

Iraqi security officers, prominent buildings and government officials are targeted almost every day. In the past month, at least 135 people were killed and 459 people were wounded in the capital alone, police said.

Mohammed al-Shurtee was distributing ice Wednesday to the Shiite pilgrims walking through Adhamiyah to cross the Bridge of the Imams into Kadhimiyah, where the shrine is located, when a blast ripped through throngs waiting at a checkpoint a few feet away.

Body parts were strewn on the streets. He said he could hear the screams of the wounded.

"They were torn into little pieces," said Shurtee, who is a Sunni. "We opened our houses and our mosque for the people. Everyone was terrified."

Shurtee and others from the Sunni neighborhood helped pull the wounded into trucks before ambulances arrived. As soon as the blast occurred, security forces randomly detained Sunni men, he said.

"I can't shake the image of the dead people on the ground," said Shurtee, whose son was killed in a car bombing in 2006 and whose brother was slain in sectarian violence. "These poor people."

In 2005, at least 900 pilgrims were killed in a stampede on the same bridge, after rumors of a suicide bomber frightened the crowd.

This year's pilgrimage was the focus of attacks despite heightened security measures that included tens of thousands of security personnel on the streets. Shiites walk to the shrine from across the country.

Five other explosions across the capital killed at least 14 pilgrims and wounded scores of others. Also on Wednesday, a man driving a car blew himself up when he was stopped by police in the western suburb of Abu Ghraib. In addition to the driver, one person was killed and four others were wounded.

Pilgrims were also targeted Tuesday, when at least seven were killed.

The path of the pilgrimage on Wednesday was lighted, and tents were set up to serve water, food, tea and medication to the pilgrims. Unarmed men in civilian clothes, followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, stood among the pilgrims and searched them one by one.

In west-central Baghdad, an explosion tore through one of the tents, killing three people and wounding at least 35 others. Blood stained the road as men worked to take the tent down and clean away the rubble. They blamed the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"We're so tired," said Mohammed Sabah, 25. He lost a friend in the attack. Sabah had already lost a brother and cousin. "They want to bring the sectarian fighting back. We want to look to the future. But we just want to know what they want."

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