Blasts at Iraqi Shiite Shrines
A wave of fiery explosions in and around Shiite Muslim shrines in Baghdad and Karbala killed scores of Iraqis Tuesday, turning a day of pilgrimage and worship for millions into one of the worst days of mass mourning since end of the war in Iraq.
At least six explosions hit Karbala. At least four hit Baghdad. Witnesses in both cities described horrific scenes of blood and body parts, of suffering and sorrow.
Authorities said there were too many bodies to count accurately and immediately.
Wire services quoted officials of the U.S. Provisional Coalition Authority saying that there were 143 people killed. The Iraqi Governing Council put the total at 125. Many more, possibly thousands, were wounded.
The attacks in the two cities took place nearly simultaneously Tuesday morning as tens of thousands of Shiite pilgrims from Iraq, Iran and elsewhere in the Muslim world, gathered for Ashura, the holiest day in the Shiite religious calendar.
The weapons, witnesses said, included suicide bombers, mortars, grenades and explosives planted in the middle of crowds.
Angry crowds gathered afterward. Some blamed Sunni Muslims; others blamed Americans. Some members of the Iraqi Governing Council blamed the al Qaeda terrorist organization, noting that an intercepted communication several weeks ago spoke of a plot to turn Shiites against the U.S. occupation by attacking Shiite targets.
Stone-throwing Iraqis attacked U.S. Army medics trying to help wounded at Kazimiya shrine in Baghdad, wire services reported, driving the U.S. troops back into their high-walled compound. Soldiers threw smoke grenades and fired shotguns into the air to drive the mob off.
It was to have been a historic moment of freedom for Shiite Muslims, who are the majority Islamic group in Iraq. In the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, they had never been permitted to commemorate in public the anniversary of the death of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, Imam Hussein, who was killed in a 7th century battle in Karbala.
The level of coordination involved here and the selection of this emotionally charged event certainly suggests al Qaeda to me.
“Whoever did this is trying to divide the Muslims,” said a voice on a loudspeaker. “Don’t let them succeed.” Another said “Don’t be sad for the people who died. They are going directly to God.”
Several Iraqi leaders blamed the U.S.-led occupation forces for the deaths because they did not provide adequate protection for the pilgrims. “They are supposed to be responsible for the security situation,” Ahmed Safi, a spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most influential cleric, told the Arabiya television news channel. Sistani’s words carry the force of law for many of his Shiite Muslim followers.
A not unreasonable reaction. This is the down side of trying to run an occupation while pretending not to be an occupying force. The decision to not search attendees at this event was a politically sensitive move, but just stupid from an operational standpoint. They search visitors to the Smithsonian these days. Surely, it makes sense to search people in Iraq, given that there’s a bloody insurgency ongoing.