Security increased for Shiite holiday

Iraqi officials find 14 bodies

September 09, 2006|By Patrick J. McDonnell | Patrick J. McDonnell,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Tens of thousands of Shiite Muslim pilgrims headed to a shrine city south of the capital yesterday amid heavy security as the daily toll of casualties mounted.

No major attacks were reported against the multitudes of Shiites destined for the holy city of Karbala, where today they will celebrate the birthday of a revered imam who disappeared more than a millennium ago.

But even on a relatively quiet day in the capital, authorities reported finding 14 unidentified bodies in various neighborhoods, all handcuffed, blindfolded and killed execution-style in the trademark fashion that has come to characterize the internecine conflict. Most victims were shot in the head.

Also in the capital, a roadside bomb targeting police killed three civilians and wounded three lawmen in largely Shiite east Baghdad. Blasts from mortar shells left two other civilians dead in a Shiite district of southern Baghdad, and gunmen killed at least three others in various incidents, authorities reported.

Baghdad, traditionally a diverse city of Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and others, has become the prime killing ground of the sectarian conflict that authorities say leaves as many as 100 Iraqis dead each day. Tens of thousands have reportedly fled to "safe" neighborhoods where their sects predominate and armed militias provide some measure of safety.

Despite the presence in Iraq of about 145,000 U.S. troops, the highest figure in months, authorities have been unable to stanch the bloodshed as the Shiite-led government struggles to maintain some sense of order amid the daily carnage.

Thousands of Iraqi police, soldiers and volunteers sealed off Karbala, about 50 miles south of the capital, as officials feared a repeat of past attacks on masses of Shiite pilgrims. Vehicles, cell phones and weapons were banned from the city, and everyone was subject to search.

News agencies reported that mortar rounds aimed at Shiites en route to Karbala killed at least three pilgrims in the city of Musayyib, about 35 miles south of Baghdad. But provincial authorities said the dead were local residents killed when mortar blasts targeting a police station went astray in a violent, mixed-population strip south of the capital.

The pilgrims, whose numbers are expected to top 1 million, are paying homage to a hallowed Shiite figure known as the Mahdi. According to their belief, the Mahdi will return some day to save the faithful.

Karbala, with its two magnificent, gold-domed shrines, is one of the jewels of the Shiite world and has been the site of numerous attacks targeting pilgrims, including multiple suicide bombings during a religious celebration in the spring of 2004 that left 130 worshipers dead and hundreds injured.

Yesterday, the Muslim holy day, Shiite preachers throughout the nation urged the faithful to endorse the combustible concept of federalism, under which Shiite-dominated southern provinces would merge into an autonomous region.

"Such a federal system exists in many nations, but when the Shiite talk about federalism they are accused of dividing Iraq," Sadruddin Qubanchi, a leading Shiite cleric, told worshipers in the southern city of Najaf. "There is no such danger."

Many Sunnis view the plan as a scheme to leave their long-dominant sect bereft of resources while the Shiite south and Kurdish north pocket petroleum revenues from vast deposits in their respective zones.

In Parliament on Thursday, a shouting match ensued as Sunni representatives accused the majority Shiites of trying to slice up the country into ethnic and sectarian fiefdoms. The contentious debate is expected to resume next week.

Patrick J. McDonnell writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Killed in Iraq

As of yesterday, at least 2,666 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003.

Identifications

Lance Cpl. Eric P. Valdepenas, 21, Seekonk, Mass.; killed Monday in combat in Anbar province; assigned to the Marine Reserve's 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division; Ayer, Mass.

Pvt. Ryan E. Miller, 21, Gahanna, Ohio; killed Sunday in combat in Anbar province; assigned to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force; Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Lance Cpl. Shane P. Harris, 23, Las Vegas, N.M.; killed Sunday in combat in Anbar province; assigned to 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force; Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Pfc. Hannah L. Gunterman, 20, Redlands, Calif.; died Monday in Taji from a noncombat-related cause; assigned to the Army's 542nd Maintenance Company, 44th Corps Support Battalion; Fort Lewis, Wash.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher G. Walsh, 30, St. Louis; killed Monday in combat in Anbar province; assigned to the Marine Reserve's 3rd Battalion, 24th Regiment, 4th Marine Division; Bridgeton, Mo.

Cpl. Jared M. Shoemaker, 29, Tulsa, Okla.; killed Monday in combat in Anbar province; assigned to Marine Reserve's 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division; Broken Arrow, Okla.

[Associated Press]

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