Weeping mourners hold funerals for Shiites killed in Baghdad bombs

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Shiites bury victims of Baghdad mosque bombings

BAGHDAD — Weeping and wailing Shiites on Saturday buried the last of dozens of bombing victims killed while praying, and their leaders called for a three-day mourning period after the deadliest day in Iraq this year.

Shortly after dawn, a half-dozen funeral processions headed from the vast eastern Baghdad slum of Sadr City to the holy Shiite city of Najaf, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the south. Most of the devout Shiites buried their dead just hours after Friday’s bombings killed 62 people across Baghdad.

Most of the Baghdad targets were Shiite mosques. In all, at least 69 people were killed in attacks across Iraq.

Women in black cloaks comforted crying boys in Sadr City funerals, and anguished men held posters of clerical leaders as they marched.

The bulk of the casualties came in Sadr City, where four strategically located car bombs timed to maximize the carnage exploded as hundreds of worshippers knelt on prayer mats in the streets surrounding the offices of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

On Saturday, Sadrist spokesman Abu Zahra announced a three-day mourning period and said the office would erect a huge mourning tent close to where the bombs exploded.

The attacks are widely seen as demonstrating the resilience of the Sunni-led insurgency after the slaying of two al-Qaida leaders last weekend. No one has taken responsibility for the blasts, but officials were quick to blame Sunni-led insurgent groups for attacking at a particularly fragile time as Iraq awaits formation of a new government and prepares for U.S. troops to go home by the end of next year.

The protracted political wrangling since contentious March 7 elections has raised fears of sectarian violence akin to that seen at the height of the war.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lashed out at the bombers in a statement Friday night, saying the insurgents were trying to fight back after Iraqi security forces killed the two al-Qaida in Iraq leaders on April 18.

“The cowardly terrorist attacks that occurred today were intending to cover the great success achieved by the security forces through the killing of the leaders of wickedness and terrorism, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri,” al-Maliki said.

Friday’s apparently coordinated attacks came in a two-hour span shortly after the Shiites’ call to prayer across the capital. The major blasts were in former Shiite militia strongholds, underscoring the insurgents’ professed aim of provoking a new round of sectarian bloodshed. Among the targets of the car and roadside bombs were three Shiite mosques.

Two of the bombs exploded in the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniyah, killing one person and wounding 12. Two others targeted mosques linked with prominent Shiite political leaders. A car bomb at the Hadi al-Chalabi mosque in the Hurriyah neighborhood killed eight people and wounded 19. The mosque is named after the father of Ahmed Chalabi, who was behind much of the faulty intelligence that resulted in the U.S.-led invasion and has since led efforts to bar many Sunni political figures from office.

A bomb targeting the Muhsin al-Hakim mosque killed 14 people and wounded 36. That mosque is named after the grandfather of Ammar al-Hakim, a leading Shiite political figure whose party has ties to Iran.

Three people died in scattered violence elsewhere in the capital.

Bombs also ripped through the houses of Iraqi policemen in the former insurgent stronghold of Anbar province, killing at least seven people, including a soldier trying to defuse one of the devices, authorities said.

April has been the deadliest month in Iraq so far this year, with more than 263 civilians killed in war-related violence, according to an Associated Press count. Still, violence is dramatically lower than past years.

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