Huge blasts attack Iraq unity
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On the edge of the city where the enormity of the attacks had yet to filter through, Shiites rhythmically beat themselves with chain flails in time to a goatskin drum, a traditional ritual of mourning for Imam Hussein. Others recited verses from the Koran. Saddam Hussein banned Shiites from commemorating Ashoura, fearful that the powerful sentiments evoked by the festival could be mobilized against his regime.Skip to next paragraph
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Closer to the shrines, angry Shiites blamed the US and Israel for the attack. Some also accused fellow Shiites from Iran. One Iranian pilgrim was reportedly badly beaten by the crowd. Yet many Iranians were among the victims. Busloads of Iranians have arrived here in the past few days for the Ashoura commemoration. Local police said two men had been arrested in connection with the attacks.
"Whoever did this hates Iraq and the Iraqi people," says Qadom Ghazali. Blaming the US, Mr. Ghazali insists that he bears no ill will toward Iraq's Sunni Muslims: "The Sunnis and the Shiites are all one people and our goal is to unite Iraq."
At the same time as the blasts shook Karbala, three suicide bombers blew themselves up beside the Shiite Khadimiyeh Mosque in a northern suburb of Baghdad, killing more than 75 people. A fourth suicide bomber whose explosives failed to detonate was arrested, according to Iraqi police. US troops who arrived on the scene were stoned by angry Shiites.
The apparently coordinated attacks were the deadliest against Shiites since August, when 85 people, including Shiite leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, were killed by a car bomb in the holy city of Najaf.
More than 300 people were killed in a series of suicide-bomb attacks as well as routine anticoalition operations in February, making it the bloodiest month since Hussein's ouster. That grim statistic may be matched or overtaken this month in the wake of Tuesday's blasts.
In a bid to allay fears of violence spinning out of control, Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish representatives on the Governing Council put on a united front.
"We accuse the terrorists and evildoers who obviously are aiming at disrupting the unity of Iraq and trying to destabilize the country through sectarian strife," said Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni independent on the Council. "This will not deter us from continuing our efforts to stay and work together and ... to build a new Iraq in which all people shall participate to build a future of happiness and prosperity."
The US military said last month that it had seized a letter purportedly written by Mr. Zarqawi calling on Al Qaeda's assistance to stage attacks against Iraqi Shiites in an attempt to ignite a civil war.
"The civil war and sectarian strife that Zarqawi wants to inflict on the people of Iraq will not succeed. Zarqawi failed, his gang and their evil plans have failed," said Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, a senior Shiite member on the council.
The question now is whether the carnage will bolster national unity against attempts to provoke civil war or whether it will merely deepen the distrust between Iraq's Shiite and Sunni communities.