BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber detonated a vest packed with explosives in a Sunni Arab mosque in Fallujah yesterday, killing 10 worshipers, including the imam, and shattering what had been a period of relative calm for a region once the most volatile hotbed of Iraq's insurgency.
The attack at the end of evening prayers was the deadliest to shake Anbar province since Sunni tribal leaders began working with U.S. forces in recent months to purge Islamist insurgents. The U.S. military and a Fallujah police official blamed al-Qaida in Iraq.
The blast, which killed Imam Abdul-Sattar Jumaili and nine other men and injured 11, underscored the violence gripping Iraq despite the recent U.S. troop buildup and a fresh pledge by Iraqi officials to work together.
Sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites was blamed for attacks that killed Shiite pilgrims along a 50-mile route to a shrine in Karbala. Clashes between rival militias in Karbala left three dead and scores injured as the city filled with about 1 million Shiite Muslims for the culmination of the annual Shabaniyah ritual today.
The U.S. military announced yesterday the deaths of four American troops in weekend clashes.
"No one, from the Marine lance corporal to our commanding general, would say that AQI [al-Qaida in Iraq] is defeated or completely swept out of Anbar," said Maj. Jeff Pool, spokesman for the forces deployed in western Iraq. "Last week, we had about 70 enemy incidents - attacks or attempted attacks - in Anbar. Last year at this time there were about 450 enemy incidents."
In Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, two bombs detonated near the route of the governor's motorcade in what some believed was the third assassination attempt on a provincial leader in as many weeks. Unlike the leaders of Qadisiyah and Muthanna provinces killed earlier this month, Gov. Hamad Hamoud Shightay was unharmed. He said he believed the bombs were targeted at U.S. troops in the area.
In Baghdad, the body of a CBS News translator who had been kidnapped last week was one of about a dozen that turned up on the streets of the capital yesterday. Anwar Abbas Lafta had worked for the network for 10 months after spending the previous three years in the employ of the U.S. military, CBS said.
The annual Shiite pilgrimage to Karbala to mark the birth date of the ninth-century "Hidden Imam" drew hostile fire, presumably from Sunni militants, in at least four places yesterday. Snipers had harassed the procession over the weekend, when the first marchers began walking toward the birthplace of Mohammed al-Mahdi, an imam who disappeared 1,200 years ago and who the Shiite faithful believe will return to rule over a peaceful era.
Fears of renewed bloodshed have been heightened by the deep discord in the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite widely accused of sectarian bias and allowing Shiite death squads to run amok.
Late Sunday, al-Maliki and leaders of four other factions in his government said they had reached common ground on several key issues the United States has urged the Cabinet and parliament to put in place, including a commitment to new elections, constitutional reforms and easing of a ban on former Baathists being hired for government jobs.
The Bush administration hailed the accord as a sign that the leaders had found a way to work together.
Vice President Tariq Hashimi, whose Iraqi Islamic Party is the main Sunni faction within the Tawafiq bloc boycotting al- Maliki's government, cast the accord as little more than symbolic agreement on a smattering of issues and a willingness to continue meeting informally.
Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.