At least 24 killed in attacks at mosques

The Baltimore Sun


Bombs and gunfire ripped through the end of Ramadan here yesterday, killing at least 24 worshipers and Iraqi soldiers near two Shiite mosques in a worrisome reminder that the drop in violence in recent months can be shattered by successive explosions.

The blasts struck in the early morning of Eid al-Fitr, the feast that ends the holy month of fasting. Fourteen people, including three soldiers, were killed and 28 injured when a sedan blew up outside a mosque in the Zafaraniya neighborhood of southeastern Baghdad. A man wearing a bomb vest wrestled with a security guard before blowing himself up outside the Rasoul mosque in New Baghdad, killing 10 and injuring nine people.

A witness to the Zafaraniya attack, a vendor who gave his name only as Salaam, said that moments before the explosion, he saw a car racing toward the mosque and an Iraqi armored vehicle parked near the entrance. He said the blast created a fireball, setting the armored vehicle and four cars ablaze.

"I feel distressed," said Salaam, who helped evacuate the injured to a hospital in a pickup truck. "Despite all the government assurances that the security situation is improved and Ramadan this year was safe ... the situation is still bad."

In other attacks around the country, six people, including two children, were killed in Diyala province when gunmen opened fire on a mini-bus in Kesaba village. An Interior Ministry worker was shot and killed in the southern city of Hillah.

Violence in Iraq has fallen significantly in recent months, but yesterday's bloodshed in Baghdad, which appeared to have been carried out by Sunni militants, was the second day of powerful sectarian bombings in less than a week. On Sunday, three blasts in Baghdad killed at least 31 people and injured dozens.

Baghdad is a city of checkpoints as Iraqi forces take over more from U.S. troops and citizens test the limits of newfound security. A recent Pentagon report found that civilian deaths across the country were down nearly 80 percent from June to August, compared with the same period last year. But suicide bombers and assassination squads still evade the barbed wire and blast walls.

The Pentagon report concluded that Iraq's progress, spurred in part by the U.S. military surge and the cooperation of former Sunni militias, is "reversible and uneven."

Sectarian animosities have been agitated by tribal and religious differences playing out against several factors: upcoming provincial elections, Iranian-funded militias and the slow pace of the Shiite-led government absorbing as many as 100,000 former Sunni fighters into the army, police and other civil service jobs.

On Wednesday, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took command in Baghdad of 54,000 Sunni fighters, known as the Sons of Iraq. It is unclear how smoothly they will be incorporated; the fighters and the government, which battled for years, remain mistrustful of one another.

The blasts at the mosques were more of a threat to Mohammed Abbas, a vegetable seller. He was congratulating fellow worshipers on the Eid in New Baghdad when the suicide bomber exploded near the entrance of the Rasoul mosque.

"I fell to the ground unconscious," he said. "I was injured in my legs, hands and face. There was shrapnel in my chest. ... I'm sad that such a attack took place on such an occasion, especially when it targeted innocent, unarmed worshipers."

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