Bombs at 5 Shi’ite mosques in Iraq kill at least 29

Despite attacks on sect, July’s casualties low

By Kim Gamel
Associated Press / August 1, 2009

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BAGHDAD - A string of bombings targeted Shi’ite worshipers in the Baghdad area during prayers yesterday, killing at least 29 people in an apparently coordinated attack against followers of a sect that has been blamed for some of Iraq’s worst sectarian violence.

The blasts in a former stronghold of Moqtada al-Sadr shattered a recent calm and underscored warnings that suspected Sunni insurgents would step up efforts to stoke sectarian violence as the Americans draw down their forces. Despite the violence, July was one of the calmest months for Iraqis and was the least deadly for American forces since the US invasion in 2003.

The largest blast was a car bombing near the al-Shoroufi mosque that killed at least 24 people and wounded nearly 30 in the northern neighborhood of Shaab, a former stronghold of the militia led by Sadr, whose forces were accused of being behind sectarian bloodshed and were routed last year in a US-backed government offensive.

The mosque was seized by Iraqi security forces more than a year ago, and they used it as a base after explosives and ammunition were found inside. But worshipers continued to hold weekly Friday prayer services on the street outside. Yesterday, bloodied prayer rugs and sandals were strewn around the area after the explosion.

Nearly simultaneous explosions struck four other Shi’ite mosques in Baghdad and south of the capital. Four people were killed and 17 wounded near the al-Rasoul mosque in the village of Jisr Diyala, and one person died and six were wounded at the al-Sadrain mosque in the southeastern Zafaraniyah neighborhood. The details and casualty tolls were reported by police and hospital officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

All the mosques were Sadrist except the al-Hakim mosque in Kamaliyah, which belongs to a rival Shi’ite party.

A Sadr aide, Amir al-Kenani, called it a coordinated attack against the cleric’s loyalists, blaming Al Qaeda in Iraq and political parties trying to undermine the movement. Sadr, who is believed to live in Iran, has ordered a cease-fire and is seeking to position himself as a political force before national elections in January.

“We demand that government reopen the al-Shoroufi mosque so a massacre like this won’t happen again,’’ Kenani said.

In the past, bombings blamed on Sunni insurgents would be followed by mortar attacks and execution-style killings that analysts described as retaliation by Shi’ite extremists. US military commanders have said they are optimistic the Shi’ites will continue to show restraint.

A car bomb also exploded near an outdoor market in a Kurdish area in the disputed city of Kirkuk, killing at least two people, said Brigadier General Sarhat Qader, a local police officer.

The blasts shattered a period of relative calm in the Iraqi capital, raising to at least 308 the number of Iraqis killed in July, according to an Associated Press count. There were 225 deaths in May, the least deadly month for Iraqis in four years.

Seven US troop deaths were reported for July - the lowest monthly total since the war started in March 2003, according to the AP tally. Rockets struck a US base outside Iraq’s second largest city of Basra, but no casualties were reported.

Meanwhile, the State Department said it was investigating reports that three US tourists have been detained by Iranians while hiking near the border in the self-ruled Kurdish region in northern Iraq.