Iraqi violence strikes holy day for Shiites

A bomber killed 17 at a mosque, the deadliest incident. Scores of others died elsewhere.

BAGHDAD - Attackers using bombs, rockets and guns killed at least 60 Shiite worshipers yesterday as they observed their most sacred holiday, Iraqi officials said.

The day's deadliest incident occurred in the town of Baladruz, in Diyala province in eastern Iraq, when a suicide bomber walked through the main gate of the Ali al-Akbar mosque and detonated his explosives, killing 17 people and injuring at least 57, said Ali al-Khaiyam, a police spokesman.

The worshipers were marking Ashura, which commemorates the death of the prophet Muhammad's grandson in a seventh-century battle at Karbala, in southern Iraq. The city is the focal point of the 10-day festival, which culminated yesterday.

At least 11 other Shiites observing the holiday were killed in Khanaqin, also in Diyala, near the Iranian border, after a bomb left at a market exploded, Khaiyam said.

A roadside bomb killed 15 Shiites participating in an Ashura procession in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala, and injured at least 30 civilians, according to Brig. Sadoun Salih of the Interior Ministry.

Five other people were killed in the province in other violent acts, Khaiyam said.

Violence targeting Shiites also broke out in Baghdad. A roadside bomb in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City struck an Ashura procession, killing seven and wounding 23, Salih said.

In other neighborhoods, gunmen fired Katyusha rockets at processions and used machine guns to attack passing buses heading to Karbala, Salih added. He said at least three people died in those incidents.

In another attack on Shiites headed to Karbala, gunmen opened fire on passengers in a bus leaving Baghdad, killing seven, Salih said.

The U.S. military said that a Marine was killed Monday in fighting in Anbar province, the Associated Press reported, and that a soldier died in an accident northwest of Nasiriyah.

Meanwhile, at the scene of a fierce daylong battle Sunday near Najaf between the followers of a Shiite cult leader and Iraqi and U.S. troops, a clearer picture of the group emerged yesterday as Iraqi investigators explored its village.

The village, home to at least 700 people, had several brick houses, a small mosque, a large tented area where meals were served, a printing press used to publish a newspaper, and stockpiles of dry food. There also were dozens of vehicles.

After two days of varying estimates, Iraqi officials said that 263 members of the group were killed in Sunday's battle. Provincial officials, who last month took control of security matters in Najaf province, said they had acted on intelligence reports to thwart what they described as a plot to conduct a large-scale attack on Shiite leaders and shrines.

Iraqi officials said they were still sifting through conflicting accounts of the leader's background and motivation. The man, identified by a spokesman for the prime minister's office as Samer Abu Qamar, claimed to be the 12th imam, a messianic figure who Shiites believe will reemerge after a centuries-long disappearance to restore order and justice.

Ahmad Diabel, a spokesman for the Najaf provincial government, said investigators believed that the group, known as the Soldiers of Heaven, received funding from al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group that has often targeted Shiites.

Iraqi investigators combed the destroyed village and began questioning about 500 men detained after the battle.

Abu Qamar, a Shiite, might have sought to target Shiite leaders because he saw them as a threat to his messianic claim, officials and a scholar said. Officials described his followers as uneducated people who might have been drawn to him as a symbol of hope and redemption.


World's Shiites Mark Ashura

Shiite Muslims yesterday marked the feast of Ashura, commemorating the death

in 680 of Imam Hussein, Muhammad's grandson, who Shiites believe should have been Muhammad's rightful successor. Hussein was killed in a battle with the forces of what would become the

Sunni branch of Islam.

In Ashura rites, Shiites march in large processions, beating their chests - and sometimes cutting themselves with blades - to mourn Hussein.

Events on Ashura around

the Islamic world:

Iran

Men wept for Hussein as they marched through the capital, Tehran, and children carried cradles as a reminder of his infant son, who was killed in the same battle. In the town of Bijar, marchers covered themselves in mud to show grief.

Iraq

Bombs struck Shiite ceremonies in the cities of Mandali and Khanaqin, and gunmen fired on Shiites marking Ashura in Baghdad in attacks that killed dozens. Tens of thousands of Shiites marched to the southern city of Karbala, site of the battle where Hussein was killed.

Lebanon

Tens of thousands of Shiites marched in Beirut's southern suburbs and in southern Lebanon.

Pakistan

An attack on an Ashura procession sparked gunfire that killed two Sunni Muslims in the town of Peshawar, on the Afghan border. In the

last three days, at least

two suicide attacks in northwestern Pakistan have struck Shiite gatherings.

Saudi Arabia

Men drenched in blood from self-inflicted sword wounds passed through the streets of the eastern town of Awwamiya, but in other nearby towns, Shiites refrained from bloodletting on orders of clerics.

- Associated Press