Car bomb in Iraq kills 14 on Shiite pilgrimage

June 16, 2012 5:53:33 AM PDT
A car bomb targeting a religious procession in Iraq killed at least 14 people on Saturday, the last day of a Shiite pilgrimage already hit three times in some of the deadliest violence since American troops withdrew, police said.

The latest attack came after a wave of 22 coordinated explosions killed 72 pilgrims on Wednesday. Al-Qaida's affiliate in Iraq on Saturday claimed responsibility for those bombings, which mostly hit processions of hundreds of thousands of Shiites walking to a Baghdad shrine commemorating an eighth-century imam.

Saturday's car bomb exploded just after noon near a throng of pilgrims streaming through the Shiite neighborhood of Shula in northern Baghdad, killing 14 people, including two policemen. A police official said 46 people were wounded.

The bomb was hidden in a taxi parked among a group of other taxis waiting along the procession route to take pilgrims back to their home cities once Saturday's ceremonies were over, the police official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. A hospital worker confirmed the death toll, also speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason.

Al-Qaida has been unleashing attacks every few weeks, trying to weaken the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and spark another round of the sectarian violence that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war only a few years ago. While fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims has eased off in recent years, al-Maliki's government has been plagued by sectarian tension since before the last American troops withdrew six months ago.

Despite the latest violence, Saturday's ceremonies continued to commemorate Moussa al-Kadhim, a revered imam who was the Prophet Muhammad's great-grandson.

Massive crowds carried symbolic coffins through the streets and pilgrims beat their chests as a sign of mourning as they streamed through Baghdad on Saturday to the Imam Moussa al-Kadhim mosque, where the saint is believed buried. On the sidelines, people used hoses to spray water on the crowds to relieve scorching summer heat that reached 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit).

"The terrorists will not discourage us," vowed a song played over the mosque loudspeakers, promising to keep the centuries-old pilgrimage alive "even if they cut off our bodies into pieces.

The mosque opened its doors to the pilgrims Saturday, allowing them to enter and pray at al-Kadhim's shrine before filing out of another exit.

The al-Kadhim procession was struck by tragedy in 2005, when thousands of Shiite pilgrims panicked by rumors of a suicide bomber broke into a stampede on a bridge, leaving some 1,000 of them dead. Police later said no explosives were found on the bridge, and poor crowd control and the climate of fear in Iraq appeared largely to blame.

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