Friday's attacks on Iraqi Shiites a worrying sign

The attacks, for a second Friday in a row, raise concerns about a return to sectarian fighting.

By , Staff writer

For the second Friday in a row, bombs targeted Iraqi Shiites on Islam's day of prayer. This time there were at least 37 victims. Last Friday, the coordinated bombings of five mosques around Baghdad killed 29.

In 2006 and 2007, sectarian warfare between Iraq's majority Shiite Arabs and the Sunni Arabs who were Iraq's most favored group under Saddam Hussein killed thousands – and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

That fighting has largely died down, raising hopes for reconciliation and end to Iraq's insurgency, but there have been worrying signs lately that all is not well. US officials have warned that Iraq's dominant Shiite politicians are not making the sort of compromises on revenue-sharing and government employment that would allay Sunni Arab concerns that they are becoming the country's new second-class citizens.

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The most deadly of this Friday's attacks was the murder of 30 people at a Shiite Turkmen mosque in Mosul, the northern city that has long been one of Iraq's most troubled. AFP reports that the attack was by a suicide bomber.

Police said a further 72 people were wounded in the Mosul suicide bombing, the latest in a spate of deadly attacks against Shiites which have stoked fears of a return to the sectarian conflict which swept the country in 2006 and 2007.

Mosul hosts sizable communities of ethnic Turks and Kurds, as well as Iraq's majority Arabs. Ex-members of Saddam Hussein's military have long been active in the city's insurgent circles, as have members of Iraq's homegrown branch of Al Qaeda. While it wasn't immediately clear who was responsible for the attack, Mosul has long seethed with sectarian animosity. We reported in June, shortly before US combat troops pulled out of Iraq's cities, that Mosul was one of the most violent spots in Iraq.

The other casualties came as bombers targeted Shiites traveling home from the shrine city of Karbala, the BBC reports.

In Baghdad, six Shia pilgrims were killed in roadside bomb explosions. They were returning from Karbala, a holy city south of Baghdad. They had been among hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims who gather in Karbala to mark the birth of Mohammed al-Mehdi - the 12th and last Shia Imam, known as the Hidden Imam.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that a close ally of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite cleric Jalaleddin Sagheer, claimed that the prime minister recently survived an assassination attempt by a member of his own security detail. With Maliki hoping to hold onto power in next year's election, and with rumblings of discontent over his autocratic style emanating from his Shiite coalition, it seems that the challenges to Maliki are not exclusively sectarian in nature.

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