Hotel, mosques hit in suicide attacks

Insurgents kill at least 80 in blasts

November 19, 2005|By SOLOMON MOORE | SOLOMON MOORE,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Two suicide attackers simultaneously detonated bomb vests inside a pair of Shiite Muslim mosques in a town near the Iranian border yesterday, killing at least 80 people and injuring 150 during midday prayers.

The mosque bombings in the largely Kurdish community of Khanaqin were the deadliest attacks by insurgents since Sept. 29, when a series of blasts killed 95 people in Balad, another city northeast of Baghdad. The explosions shattered the Sheik Murad mosque and the Khanaqin Grand mosque, sending bricks raining onto worshipers below. Most of the casualties occurred at the larger Khanaqin Grand mosque.

The two houses of worship stood on opposite ends of the town's fresh air market.

"For more than three hours -and even now [another three hours later] - the dead are being lifted from under the rubble by police, the army and the civil defense men," said Ibrahim Ahmed Bajilan, governor of Diyala province.

The attacks in Khanaqin came nearly five hours after a pair of suicide bombings outside a Baghdad hotel that serves as the base for many Western journalists working in Iraq.

In those blasts, eight people were killed and more than 20 others were injured.

In Khanaqin, Sirwan Ismael, 25, said that he was doing his ablutions in preparation for prayer at the venerable Khanaqin Grand mosque when a suicide bomber walked into the prayer hall and set off his explosives.

"I felt a strong bomb, and I was injured from debris that fell on me," Ismael said. "It felt like a typhoon wrecked the place. I couldn't see after that easily because of the dust that spread everywhere.

"I ran without knowing where I was going - I saw other people running, weeping, complaining of the pain, dead on the ground."

Moisen Ali Ahmed, a young mosque volunteer, was approaching the mosque for Friday prayers when the bomb exploded.

Ahmed said that those injured have nothing to do with politics; they are simple ordinary people. Khanaqin is a mountainous, mostly Kurdish town 90 miles east of Baghdad with a population of about 50,000 in a largely Sunni province.

Although it is south of Kurdistan, the city is a stronghold of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of Iraq's most influential political parties. It is also the driving force behind a campaign to push out Sunni Arabs who had taken over properties of many ethnic Kurds during the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein.

In recent months, townspeople have had discussions with Kurdish leaders about annexing their town to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

"It depends where you stand on the issue," said U.S. Army Major Steven Warren, a spokesman for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, which patrols the area. "If you're a Kurd, the PUK is repatriating their own people who had been cleared out by Saddam Hussein. Or if you're a Sunni Arab and being ejected out of there you just feel like you're getting pushed out of your home."

Warren said that Sunni Arabs in the area have also been angry about the joint offensive last week by U.S. troops and Iraqi police commandos in Baqubah, also northeast of Baghdad and about 60 miles away from Khanaqin.

As of last night, no insurgent groups had taken responsibility for the mosque bombings.

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles

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