Attacks across Iraq leave at least 9 dead

New surge in violence may be related to holiday marking Shiite, Sunni schism

February 08, 2006|By BORZOU DARAGAHI AND RAHEEM SALMAN | BORZOU DARAGAHI AND RAHEEM SALMAN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Violence flared across central Iraq yesterday when two bombs exploding in quick succession killed at least seven Iraqis in a downtown market, and gunmen in Fallujah assassinated the head of the city council.

A representative of Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite Muslim cleric, was shot dead yesterday in western Baghdad.

The violence appears to be tied to the Shiite holiday of Ashoura, the commemoration of the martyrdom in the 7th century of the Shiite saint Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and a leading imam of the Shiite faith. The annual event, which marks the schism between the Sunni and Shiite sects, culminates tomorrow.

Suicide bombers killed at least 180 civilians during Ashoura festivities in 2004 and, despite tight security, more than 50 in 2005. Interior Ministry officials have said they will tighten security in the provinces surrounding Karbala, where Hussein is buried and the Ashoura ceremonies conclude.

Insurgents from Iraq's minority Sunni sect, to which the deposed dictator Saddam Hussein belongs, have been fighting the new Shiite-led government. Among them are religious extremists, some from abroad, who consider Shiites blasphemers.

The two deadly bombs in central Baghdad exploded near stalls selling CDs and showing films of Ashoura festivities, witnesses said.

The second explosion occurred about 10 minutes later, after police arrived in response to the first blast. The blasts injured nearly 30.

Violence also erupted in western Iraq, where four U.S. Marines have been killed in two separate roadside bomb attacks over the past few days.

In Fallujah, angry mourners gathered yesterday to bury Sheik Kamal Nazal, who headed the city council and was killed by gunmen earlier in the day.

In phone interviews, some residents blamed U.S.-backed forces for the killing while others blamed "Salafi" religious extremists, referring to a puritan branch of Sunni Islam.

Nazal drew the ire of some Sunnis for his overtures to the new Iraqi government and U.S. ambassador.

On Monday, gunmen attacked a Shiite family preparing for Ashoura festivities in Baqouba, injuring six, then launched an attack on visitors to the shrine of Imam Kadhem, another Shiite saint, wounding one.

Borzou Daragahi and Raheem Salman write for the Los Angeles Times.

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