Eight people killed as violence against Shiite pilgrims continues in Iraq

By Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 9, 2010

BAGHDAD -- At least seven people were killed in bombings targeting Shiite pilgrims in the Iraqi capital Thursday, and a pilgrim returning home on foot was shot dead outside the northern city of Kirkuk, on the third day of deadly violence by militants apparently intent on stoking sectarian tensions amid a months-long political stalemate.

On Wednesday, a string of explosions in and around Baghdad killed more than 50 people and wounded more than 250. The deadliest was a suicide bombing aimed at Shiite pilgrims passing through the mostly Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah; more than 28 people were killed. Pilgrims were also targeted Tuesday, when at least seven were killed.

The attacks on the Shiite community appeared intended to destabilize the country as politicians remain deadlocked on the formation of a new government, four months after national elections. Elected officials are occupied making backroom deals for top jobs, in sluggish negotiations that observers say are unlikely to be resolved soon.

Violence has dropped significantly since the height of the sectarian war that flared out of control in 2006, but some worry it could rise again as the U.S. military draws down to 50,000 troops by Sept. 1. Last month, at least 135 people were killed in the capital alone.

Many Shiites participating in ceremonies to commemorate the death of the revered Shiite figure Imam Musa al-Kadhim said they felt attackers were trying to drag the country back into civil war. In the darkest days of the past seven years, 100 bodies a day were being found in Baghdad.

Despite the threat of bloodshed, more than 4 million people gathered in northwest Baghdad to mark the anniversary, with some pilgrims taking more than a week to reach the shrine on foot. The attackers struck despite the tens of thousands of security personnel on the streets and the road closures that were imposed to allow pedestrians to pass.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was visiting Lebanon on Thursday, condemned the deadly explosions in Baghdad, the Associated Press reported. "Those who benefit from such acts are the enemies of humanity, the enemies of democracy," he said.

Also Thursday, four people were killed and five injured in bomb attacks on officers' homes in the western city of Ramadi; the dead included a woman and a child. A farmer was also killed in a bombing in Kirkuk, police said.

Special correspondent Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.

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