Scores killed in Iraq strife

Attacks mainly target Shiite pilgrims celebrating religious festival

January 31, 2007|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Sectarian warfare directed mostly at Shiite Muslim pilgrims and worshipers celebrating the climax of an important religious holiday left more than 60 Iraqis dead yesterday, including eight bodies found here in the capital.

Also, details emerged about arrests in the wake of a bold insurgent raid Jan. 20 on a joint U.S.-Iraqi security compound in Karbala in which a U.S. soldier was killed and four other American troops were captured and shot to death miles away.

A police official in Hillah said four Saudis staying in a Karbala hotel were arrested in connection with the attack. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. and Iraqi officials had seized maps and other documents in the raid.

The official said U.S. officials were spearheading the investigation into the raid, in which gunmen posing as American soldiers or contractors stormed the compound, disabled vehicles and whisked away the soldiers.

Four others of undetermined nationality were arrested near the site where the gunmen shot the soldiers, shed their equipment and fled.

Aside from a news release Friday, U.S. officials have declined to comment on the raid.

Thousands of Shiite pilgrims from around the world, including Saudis, go to Karbala for Ashura, the religious festival.

Yesterday's violence was concentrated in religiously mixed areas of the capital and the province to the northeast.

The day's most deadly incident took place in Diyala, a religiously and ethnically mixed agricultural province along the Iranian border. In the Balad Ruz region, 40 miles east of the provincial capital of Baqouba, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt amid a crowd of worshipers, killing at least 23 Shiites and wounding 57.

In nearby Khaneqin, a town of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites along the border, at least eight people were killed and 30 injured when a bomb planted along a road near a mosque exploded during an Ashura procession.

In the capital, at least 18 pilgrims were killed and 18 wounded when gunmen opened fire on minibuses ferrying passengers home from Karbala, the shrine city in southern Iraq where hundreds of thousands of Shiites commemorated the martyrdom 13 centuries ago of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Mortar battles raged between Sunni and Shiite enclaves in Baghdad. At least a dozen mortar shells landed in Adhamiya, home to an important Sunni shrine, killing 10 people and wounding 16.

A mortar shell struck a building in the northern Baghdad district of Kadhamiya, home to a Shiite shrine, killing one and injuring nine. Another struck a house in the mostly Sunni neighborhood of Jihad, injuring family members inside.

Gunmen in the Sunni-dominated Dora district shot and killed a Shiite helping his mother remove furniture from their home, which they had abandoned because of sectarian threats, police said. His mother was killed and his wife badly wounded.

An American soldier was killed Monday near the southern city of Nasiriyah when his vehicle rolled over in an accident, the U.S. military said yesterday.

The military also reported a weekend suicide bombing of a fire station, which killed 16 people near Ramadi. A driver plowed a dump truck filled with explosives and a chlorine tank into an emergency response unit compound.

"There are no indications of any casualties caused by the release of chlorine gas," the military said.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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