Dozens killed in Baghdad bomb blasts

A STING of bombings killed 17 people across Iraq’s capital yesterday, including Iranian pilgrims near a revered shrine and shoppers at a Shi’ite neighbourhood market.

The attacks – several roadside bombs and cars packed with explosives – wounded more than 100 people.

Most of the casualties were likely Shi’ite Muslims, a frequent target of Sunni insurgents who have long sought to provoke civil war in Iraq.

Police said the deadliest strike targeted a marketplace in Baiyaa, a Shi’ite district in southwestern Baghdad. A car parked outside a shopping area exploded around midday, killing six people and wounding 42. Hospital officials confirmed the casualties.

Near-simultaneous blasts also hit two groups of Iranian pilgrims near the gold-domed Moussa al-Kadhim mosque in the Shi’ite neighbourhood of Kazimiyah, according to security forces. A pair of bombs killed five pilgrims resting near the shrine.

A car exploded next to a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims in the nearby Shi’ite area of Shula, killing another three people.

Police and medical officials said those two attacks wounded 52 people.

Attacks by Sunni extremists on Shi’ite pilgrims and Iraqi Shi’ites helped fuel a surge of violence between the two main Islamic sects during the height of Iraq’s bloodshed between 2005 and 2007, as the insurgency against US forces gave way to sectarian fighting.

Shi’ite pilgrims come from all over the world to visit shrines and mosques in Iraq that are revered by Shi’ites. The
vast majority of those who make the pilgrimage come from neighbouring Iran.

Earlier, police said a roadside bomb targeting a judge’s security convoy in downtown Baghdad killed three people, including two guards, and wounded seven passers-by.

The judge was not in the convoy as it drove through Karradah, an area of mixed-ethnicity.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.

The bombings came as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle led a group of German lawmakers and business leaders on a one-day trip to Iraq for meetings with senior leaders, including President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. German investment in Iraq’s railways was among the business opportunities that both nations discussed.

Westerwelle told reporters that Berlin considers Iraq “an important partner, and we are determined to continue this support”.

Germany vigorously opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq but began boosting relations with Baghdad over the past few years.

Berlin has supported Iraq’s reconstruction with $549.34m and granted debt relief worth about $6.57bn.

Westerwelle and al-Maliki also discussed the plight of Iraq’s dwindling Christian community, which was devastated by an October 31 attack on a Catholic church in Baghdad that left 68 dead. Since 2003, Germany has granted asylum to 2500 Iraqi Christian refugees.

In a statement after the meeting, al-Maliki said he assured Westerwelle “that Christians are our brothers and have the same rights enjoyed by the general populace”.

“We do not accept their departure from our country, and we offer all possible means of protection for them to live in security, stability and prosperity,” al-Maliki said.

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