August 10, 2006

Blast kills 35 near Iraq Shi’ite shrine

NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least 35
people and wounded more than 120 on Thursday near one of
Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites, the Imam Ali shrine in the
southern Iraqi city of Najaf.

A little-known Iraqi insurgent group said it had carried
out the attack, the bloodiest since July 18, when 59 people
were killed by a suicide bomb in nearby Kufa.

That bombing was claimed by al Qaeda, which has attacked
Shi'ites in a bid to inflame sectarian passions and trigger
full-scale civil war. Thursday's bomb in Najaf appeared to have
the same objective.

"God enabled your brothers of the Jamaat Jund al-Sahaba
(Soldiers of the Prophet's Companions) to carry out an
operation which took the lives of at least 30 rejectionists
(Shi'ites), including police," said a group statement, whose
authenticity could not be verified. It was posted on a main
Islamic Web site.

Hospital sources said the Najaf bomber blew himself up at a
police commando checkpoint on his way to the Imam Ali shrine.
The defense ministry said 35 were killed and 122 injured.

"Suddenly my cart and the cans and the people were flying
through the air," said Moussa Khadhan, a 37-year-old street

Ambulances drove through the streets of Najaf appealing for
blood donations as the scale of carnage became clear.

Television pictures showed the body of a child being laid
beside other bloodied corpses on a patch of ground by a
hospital. The dead, marked with numbered white labels on their
foreheads, included both police and civilians, police and
hospital sources said.

Ali Fahad, 28, had been walking toward the shrine with his
brother when the bomb exploded. "Where is my brother?" he asked
while medics treated him for burns.


Mostly Shi'ite Najaf has been stable compared to other
parts of Iraq, where a Sunni Arab insurgency is aimed at
toppling the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nuri

However, in December 2004 a suicide car bomb killed 52
people and wounded at least 140 near the same Imam Ali shrine.

The United States has boosted its troop levels in Baghdad,
some 160 km (100 miles) to the north, to try to ease
inter-communal bloodshed tearing the capital apart and build
confidence in the new Shi'ite-led government in power since

About 6,000 additional Iraqi forces and 3,500 U.S. soldiers
from the 172nd Striker Brigade combat team are being deployed
in the Baghdad area, and are expected to start systematically
trying to clear neighborhoods of militants and insurgents.

Maliki has pledged to disarm rival militias and bring sects
together. But a senior politician said the problem lay within
government ministries themselves.

"Disbanding the militias means disbanding the Interior and
Defense Ministries and disbanding the sides funding the
militias in the Interior and Defense ministries," Speaker of
Parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani told a news conference.

Almost 2,000 bodies were brought to the Baghdad morgue in
July, the largest monthly toll since the aftermath of the
bombing of the Shi'ite Golden Mosque of Samarra in February,
which triggered a wave of sectarian killing.

Around Iraq, violence continued. Six people were killed by
a bomb in a restaurant in southern Baghdad, an Interior
Ministry source said, while three police died in fighting with
gunmen in the nearby district of Um al-Maalif.

There was no word from the U.S. military on the fate of two
U.S. soldiers missing since Tuesday, when their Blackhawk
helicopter crashed in Anbar province, a heartland of the
insurgency west of Baghdad.