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Suicide bombers kill 71 at Baghdad mosque

Reuters

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By Omar al-Ibadi and Mariam Karouny

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Three suicide bombers dressed as women killed at least 71 people at a Shi'ite mosque on Friday, the bloodiest attack in Iraq for at least three months.

One hundred and 40 people were also wounded in the attack in north Baghdad, the latest proof of how Iraq's leaders have been unable to tackle sectarian violence as they struggle to form a government.

"This is a cowardly act. Every time I see these bloody scenes it tears apart my heart," said fireman Jawwad Kathim, holding a severed finger.

A police official said the bombers were dressed in traditional Shi'ite women's black robes when they struck, two inside the mosque and one just outside. Some police sources said all of them were women. others that two were men.

Men screamed as bodies of victims were taken on wooden carts to ambulances at the complex, which belongs to SCIRI, the most powerful group inside Iraq's ruling Shi'ite Alliance.

People picked up pieces of flesh and placed them on trays.

"The Shi'ites are the target and it's a sectarian act. There is nothing to justify this act but black sectarian hatred," said SCIRI leader Jalal al-Deen, who was at the mosque during the explosions. He said he had counted 65 bodies.

He accused some Sunni newspapers of inciting violence by publishing reports that the mosque contained a detention center where Sunnis were abused.

It was the biggest suicide attack on a Shi'ite target since November 2005, and the worst attack overall since at least January 5 when suicide bombers killed around 70 people in Ramadi.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the bombing and said it showed the urgent need for Iraq's political leaders "to resolve their differences in the best interests of the nation" his spokesman said.

The attack came a day after a car bomb exploded near a Shi'ite shrine in the sacred southern city of Najaf, killing at least 13 people.

Sectarian tensions have been running high since the February 22 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest sites in Shi'ite Islam. This touched off reprisals and pushed Iraq to the brink of a sectarian civil war.

Hundreds of bodies have turned up on Baghdad streets since then with bullet holes, bound and blindfolded and showing signs of torture.

But there has been a lull in spectacular suicide attacks, which Iraqi and U.S. officials say are part of a campaign by al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi to draw Shi'ites into sectarian civil war.

POLITICAL PARALYSIS

The attack could not have come at a worse time for Iraq's fractious leaders, who promised after December elections to tackle violence but are struggling to break a deadlock over a new government as the country keeps counting casualties.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a leader in the Shi'ite Alliance with SCIRI and other parties, refuses to heed calls to step down to end the political paralysis.

The Shi'ite Alliance faces an internal crisis if it drops Jaafari but will prolong the deadlock over a government if it keeps him, a dilemma the country cannot afford.

With Sunni Arab and Kurdish politicians refusing to work with Jaafari, pressure is mounting on the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) to secure a breakthrough.

"It is regrettable that they have put themselves in a lose-lose situation," a senior source in negotiations on a government told Reuters.

"Not only is the UIA damaged but the country is losing and the political process is losing."

In Najaf, senior SCIRI official Sadr Eddine al-Qabanji said in Friday prayers that Iraq's political blocs should seek the help of top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on forming a government.

Sistani's calls for moderation are credited with restraining Shi'ites in the face of suicide bombings which have killed thousands of people in the 60 percent majority Shi'ite community. Continued ...

ę Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.


:: Article nr. 22338 sent on 07-apr-2006 21:17 ECT

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Link: today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2006-04-07T180846Z_
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