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Bombs killed at least 12 people in Baghdad on Thursday, the final day of a Shiite religious festival that brought as many as 1 million pilgrims to the capital to worship at the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim, the seventh of Shiite Islam’s 12 most holy saints. The attacks followed closely on a larger assault that killed as many as 60 people Wednesday in blasts targeting Shiites headed to a shrine in northern Baghdad.
The attacks highlight fears that insurgents may try to take advantage of Iraq’s political uncertainty to destabilize the country, four months after elections in March failed to produce a government and just weeks before a US troop drawdown is set to begin.
No group has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attacks which were spread across the northern and eastern parts of the city, says the Associated Press. Similar attacks in the past have been organized by Sunni extremist groups who espouse hostility towards the country’s Shiite majority.
The AP reports:
Six people died in eastern Baghdad when a roadside bomb exploded Thursday morning as pilgrims were walking home from the mosque in the Kazimiyah neighborhood, while a car bomb in southern Baghdad killed another person.
Five more people were killed by a roadside bomb in northern Baghdad, said Iraqi hospital and police officials.
The majority of Wednesday’s casualties came when a single suicide bomber struck a throng of Shiite worshippers heading from the Sunni area of Adhamiyah to the Shiite area of Kadhimiyah, home to the shrine of Imam Musa Al Kadhim, reports Al Jazeera.
That attack killed at least 32 and injured 90. It took place not far from a bridge where an estimated 900 people died in a stampede during the same festival in 2005, sparked by rumors that a suicide bomber was hidden in the crowd of worshipers.
As The Christian Science Monitor reported Wednesday, security in Baghdad had been beefed up in anticipation of this week’s festival. The government has deployed 200,000 extra police and soldiers around the capital to deter attackers, put new restrictions on motor vehicles, and closed some roads and bridges.
The attacks come at a delicate moment for Iraq, which some observers fear may be exactly why the insurgents are striking now.
At the moment, it is unclear who will be in charge when the US leaves. Iraq has been in political deadlock since elections on March 7 failed to produce a clear winner. Sitting Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki lost that race by a hair to rival Ayad Allawi. Nevertheless, both claim the right to be prime minister: Maliki formed a new majority coalition from a collection of smaller parties after losing the March race, in which Allawi’s bloc actually won a majority of votes.
Edmund Ghareeb, a professor of Middle East studies at the American University in Washington, said "there's an effort to stir sectarian conflict ... and to use and exploit the vacuum which exists as a result of the inability of the Iraqi politicians to form a new government."
"So in this vacuum there are groups which are trying to throw back Iraq to the period of sectarian conflict and to maintain this kind of tension," he told Al Jazeera.
"And it is in many ways, I would believe, a reflection of the continuing problems which are facing Iraq, particularly the security situation.