Shiites target of attacks in Iraq

BAGHDAD, IRAQ — BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents intent on disrupting Iraq's election turned their firepower against Iraq's Shiite community yesterday, killing at least 22 in suicide bombings targeting a mosque and a wedding party.

In what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to inflame sectarian tensions ahead of the poll, a suicide bomber rammed into a Shiite mosque in a Sunni neighborhood of southwestern Baghdad, killing 15 people and wounding more than 40, according to a spokesman at Baghdad's Yarmuk hospital.


The bombing at the Shuhada al Taf mosque coincided with Shiite celebrations for the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, and most of the dead were worshipers leaving the mosque after attending holiday services.

Sunnis had celebrated the start of the four-day holiday Thursday, in just one example of the many doctrinal and ceremonial differences between the two branches of Islam whose rivalries are growing in Iraq as the Jan. 30 election approaches.


Later yesterday, a suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed ambulance into a Shiite wedding party in the mostly Sunni town of al-Yussifiyah south of Baghdad, killing seven and wounding dozens, according to the Associated Press.

Kadhem al-Shibli, the sheik of the Shiite Buamer tribe in the area, said dozens of members of his tribe were celebrating the wedding when the bomber struck last night. He said he believed at least 20 had died. "It was dark, and there were so many people killed and injured it was impossible to say how many," he said.

Yesterday's attacks were the latest in a growing campaign of violence against Iraq's majority Shiites, and they came a day after an inflammatory attack on Shiites by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born Sunni extremist who says he represents al-Qaida in Iraq.

In a 90-minute audiotape posted on an Islamist Web site, a man claiming to be al-Zarqawi urged his followers to prepare for a long war against foreign forces in Iraq and accused Shiites of collaborating with U.S. troops in the assault against the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in November.

"They played a big role in the massacre, the looting, the sabotage and the spilling of innocent blood among children, women and the elderly. ... They participated in the military campaign for the battle against Fallujah with the blessing of the imam of infidelity and apostasy, Sistani," the voice on the audiotape said.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is Shiite Islam's most revered religious leader, and he has actively been encouraging Iraq's majority Shiite community to participate in an election that most Shiites regard as a chance to end centuries of Sunni dominance.

Sunnis, in contrast, are at best ambivalent about an election unlikely to be won by Sunni parties. Many Sunni leaders have called on their followers to boycott the poll, while the Sunni-led insurgency has threatened death to anyone who participates.

Both of yesterday's attacks targeted Shiites living in majority Sunni areas, and Shiite leaders said they believe insurgents are aiming to thwart Iraq's progress toward democracy by igniting a civil war.


"It is quite obvious why there is such an attack. They are trying to create sectarian strife," Abdul Aziz Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told the Agence France-Presse news agency after the mosque bombing.

Also yesterday, a U.S. soldier serving with the 1st Infantry Division was killed and another wounded during a raid against a bomb-making cell in the town of Duluiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.

Elsewhere, insurgents overran a police station in the town of Hit, west of Ramadi, in troubled Anbar province. They told the police there to go home, seized their weapons and then destroyed the building, according to Al-Arabiya satellite news channel.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.