Shiite Muslims, many kneeling in prayer, were attacked in their mosques and on the streets on the eve of their holiest day, with five bombings killing 36 people in the deadliest day in Iraq since the January 30 national elections.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for yesterday’s blasts - three of them suicide attacks – in Baghdad and Iskandariyah, south of the capital.
But Shiites blamed radical Sunni Muslim insurgents, who have staged car bombs, shootings and kidnappings to try to destabilise Iraq’s reconstruction.
At the al-Bayaa mosque in the capital, quick action from a security guard may have prevented more bloodshed. Amer Mayah said he opened fire on a man - apparently a second suicide attacker at the mosque – who was trying to pull two grenades from his pocket, “and immediately he exploded”.
The attacks happened on the eve of Ashoura, which marks the 10th day of the Islamic holy month of Muharram and the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, in a 7th century battle for leadership of the Islamic world.
Similar attacks last year during Ashoura killed 181 people in Baghdad and Karbala, a city that is holy to Shiites.
Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie, the national security adviser for the interim government, accused Jordanian-born terror suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and former Baath party members of trying to provoke a sectarian civil war.
Shiite politicians are negotiating over whom to nominate for prime minister. Former Pentagon favourite Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite, claimed yesterday that he had enough support to best the other leading contender, interim vice president Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
In a reminder of the dangers facing American troops here, a US soldier was killed yesterday on patrol in northern Iraq and a second was killed in the south, the military said. Three other American soldiers were killed in separate attacks in the country’s north on Wednesday and Thursday.
:: As many as 200,000 people were expected to take part in a demonstration in Rome today to demand the release of an Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq earlier this month.
The demonstration comes amid an outpouring of support following a video showing the captive, 56-year-old Giuliana Sgrena, pleading for her life.
Sgrena was abducted in Baghdad on Feb. 4. On Wednesday, in a video delivered anonymously to Associated Press Television News, she was shown pleading for her life and calling for the pullout of foreign troops in Iraq, including the 3,000-strong Italian contingent.