2 Blasts In Iraq Aimed at Shiites

Bombings at Shrine Come on 2nd Day Of Major Bloodshed

Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 25, 2009

BAGHDAD, April 24 -- Two female suicide bombers killed at least 75 people Friday outside a Shiite shrine in northern Baghdad, raising the death toll from the past two days in Iraq to more than 160 and igniting fears that the Iraqi capital could again spiral into a cycle of sectarian violence.

The wave of bombings targeting Shiites could incite reprisals from Shiite militias as the United States begins pulling troops out of the country. Suicide bombers in Baghdad and Diyala province killed more than 85 people Thursday, the deadliest single day this year in Iraq. A car bombing in Diyala on Friday evening killed an additional seven people, Iraqi authorities said.

The rapid series of attacks bore the trademarks of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has long sought to undermine the United States and Iraq's Shiite-led government. The Sunni insurgency lacks the widespread support it had in 2006 and 2007 but has demonstrated over the past few weeks that it remains capable of inflicting massive bloodshed.

In Washington, Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, said a group of Tunisians had slipped across the Syrian-Iraqi border to carry out some of the bombings. Loosened scrutiny along the border, where the U.S. military had cracked down on smuggling last year, allowed the bombers to cross, the general said.

"There may be others that have come through," Petraeus told a panel of the House Appropriations Committee.

Iraqi security forces, which now include about 600,000 troops and police, will lead the effort against the bombing networks as U.S. forces start to withdraw, Petraeus said.

The bombers struck shortly before midday prayers Friday outside the tomb of Imam Musa al-Kadhim, next to a busy entrance to the Kadhimiyah shrine, Baghdad's most revered Shiite site. A bombing in February 2006 at a shrine in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad, is widely seen as the starting point of a sectarian conflict that displaced hundreds of thousands and brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Friday's attacks ushered back the sights and sounds of the darkest moments of the Iraq war.

Sirens wailed in a desperate chorus. Ambulance drivers navigated wildly through crowded streets and checkpoints. Bodies, some dead, some not, were piled by the dozens onto pickup trucks. Rifle-toting policemen at checkpoints kept their fingers on their triggers, warily scanning all who approached.

Inside a crammed room at a teachers' hospital in Kadhimiyah, Ali Qaiz, 22, wearing a short-sleeve purple shirt and a gray blanket over his shrapnel-torn leg, described the blast in whispers. He and six friends had been nearing the shrine. The streets were crowded. A slight sandstorm Friday morning had given the capital a dreary feel.

"We were walking, and I heard a loud explosion," he said, lying on his side as saline solution was administered intravenously into his bloodied right arm. "I was tossed in the air and blacked out."

He regained consciousness, he said, as bystanders tossed him on the back of a truck with at least 20 bodies. In his view, the bombers' goal is obvious.

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