Mosque attack in Iraq adds to three-day toll

A suicide car bomber struck worshippers leaving a Shi’ite mosque in a northern Iraqi city on Friday, killing at least 12 people and wounding 21 others. Twelve other people were killed as the Sunni-dominated insurgency pressed its “all-out war” against the government and majority Shi’ite population.

The explosion and shootings on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, extended to a third day an outbreak of violence that began on Wednesday with 14 bombings in Baghdad. So far, more than 200 people have been killed and about 600 wounded in a stunning insurgent rampage.

While the overwhelming violence in recent days appeared designed to split the country further along ethnic and religious fault lines, clerics from both the Sunni and Shi’ite sects rejected the tactic in Friday sermons.

“We don’t need from others [foreign fighters] to come across the border and kill us under the name of defending us,” Sheik Mahmud al-Sumadaei, an influential member of the Sunni Scholars’ Association, said at western Baghdad’s Um al-Qura Sunni mosque.

Others issued condemnations of all sides, including the United States force in Iraq.

“I hold the occupation forces, [and] the Iraqi defence and interior ministers, responsible for the latest terrorist attacks that killed the innocents among our people,” said Sheikh Mahdi al-Karbalaei in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala, 80km south of Baghdad.

In the Friday mosque attack, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle as worshippers left the Hussainiyat al-Rasoul al-Azam mosque in Tuz Khormato, 210km north of Baghdad, said police Colonel Sarhat Qader.

Police subsequently captured a young man wearing a suicide-bomb belt and heading toward a second mosque.
Authorities said the man identified himself as Muhammed Ali, a Saudi citizen.

Earlier on Friday, gunmen opened fire on day labourers in Baghdad, killing three and wounding a dozen in a drive-by shooting.

“We are innocent people working for just 10 000 or 12 000 [dinars, or $7 to $8 per day]. Those criminals and terrorists came and did this to us,” said Salah Aziz Ali, a wounded worker.

On Thursday, suicide bombers killed at least 31 people in three suicide attacks targeting Iraqi police. A day earlier, at least 167 people were killed and 570 wounded in more than a dozen bombings in Baghdad. The largest single toll resulted from a suicide bombing against day labourers in the largely Shi’ite Kazimiyah neighbourhood in north Baghdad.

The US military also continued attacks on militant strongholds in western Iraq near the Syrian border where insurgents hold many towns and villages along the Euphrates River as it flows south-eastward from the Syrian border.

A Thursday-night air strike on an abandoned school in Karabilah, about 320km north-west of Baghdad, left nine al-Qaeda in Iraq militants dead, the military said. Before dawn on Friday, US jets also destroyed an al-Qaeda complex in Haditha along the Euphrates river in western Iraq.

A US marine was also killed on Thursday in an “indirect fire” explosion in the volatile Anbar province, the military said.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq said the brutal bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere were retaliation for the joint Iraqi-US operation that pushed insurgents out of their stronghold in Tal Afar, also near the Syrian border but in the far north of Iraq.

The group’s leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, on Wednesday vowed to wage an “all-out war” on the country’s Shi’ite majority, calling its members collaborators of the “Jews and Crusaders”.

A car bomb also exploded near an Iraqi police patrol in the town of Haswa, near Baghdad, killing three officers and wounding four, police Captain Muthana Khalid said. In Iskandariyah, 50km south of Baghdad, gunmen broke into the house of the local mayor and shot him dead, after first killing his four bodyguards, Khalid said.

In the capital’s Shi’ite district of Sadr City, gunmen assassinated Sheik Fadil al-Lami, the cleric at the Imam Ali mosque, at about noon as he waited to fill his car’s gasoline tank, said police Lieutenant Colonel Shakir Wadi. Police also discovered the bodies of three people in the district, one an Iraqi soldier, Wadi said.

A mortar struck the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, which houses the Iraqi government, Parliament and US embassy. No casualties were reported, said police Major Falah al-Mhamadawi.

The spike in violence, US and Iraqi officials said, is not surprising. It is viewed as a drive by the Sunni-dominated insurgency to derail the political process and the upcoming October 15 referendum on the draft Constitution. Sunnis, once the power brokers under Saddam Hussein’s regime, complain the draft charter heavily favours Iraq’s Shi’ite and Kurdish populations.

“These spikes of violence are predictable around certain critical events that highlight the progress of democracy,” said Major General Rick Lynch, the chief American military spokesperson.

Lynch said the joint Iraqi-American force of 8 500 killed 145 insurgents and captured 361 in the second operation in a year to rid Tal Afar of militants, including foreign fighters crossing from Syria.

Iraqi and US officials say the fighters sneak across the porous border with Syria and have accused the Damascus government of doing little to stop the influx. While Syria has repeatedly denied the charges, Iraqi officials have adopted an increasingly stronger tone, and the country’s defence minister has pledged that operations targeting the militants will be extended to other Euphrates River valley towns seen as militant safe havens.

“We will not retreat or be silent. There will be no room for you [insurgents] in all of Iraq. We will chase you wherever you go,” Minister of Defence Sadoun al-Dulaimi, a Sunni, told reporters.

For the Iraqi leadership, the challenge has been to ward off a seemingly endless insurgent campaign while winning the support of the country ahead of the October 15 constitutional referendum and the trial of Saddam just days later.

The Iraqi government, in a bid to deflect an escalation of Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian tensions, has stressed that foreign fighters are behind much of the worst violence in Iraq, pointing to the arrest of a Palestinian and a Libyan in Wednesday’s Kazimiyah attacks on day labourers as proof. The bomber, they said, was Syrian. The government gave no evidence to support those claims.

The massive bombings took place with both Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari in the US.

“Today, Iraq is facing one of the most brutal campaigns of terror at the hands of the forces of darkness,” Talabani said on Thursday, addressing the United Nations General Assembly with an appeal for international help.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press obtained the text of minor, final changes to Iraq’s draft Constitution. The UN is to print the draft in Baghdad and insure its distribution before the referendum, but the world body said it is awaiting final approval. There are conflicting reports on when Iraq’s Parliament will sign off on the document.—Sapa-AP

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