At least 60 people were killed and 125 wounded in a double suicide bombing at a Shiite Muslim shrine in Baghdad on Friday, Iraqi police said.
REUTERS - In a second day of major bloodshed, two suicide bombers wearing explosive vests blew themselves up at the gates of a Shi'ite Muslim shrine in Baghdad on Friday, killing 60 people, Iraqi police said.
At least 125 people were wounded in the attack at the Imam Moussa al-Kadhim shrine in the Shi'ite neighbourhood of Kadhimiya, a frequent target of insurgent groups, police said.
Police said the attackers approached two different gates of the shrine among crowds of Shi'ite pilgrims. One of the bombers detonated the explosives just inside a courtyard of the shrine, which contains the tombs of two important holy men, or imams.
The blasts on the Muslim holy day followed two suicide attacks on Thursday, one in Baghdad and the other in the northeastern province of Diyala, in which at least 89 people died. It appeared to be the highest daily toll in over a year.
The attacks coincide with growing fears of a resurgence in violence as U.S. troops prepare to pull out of Iraqi cities in June, ahead of a full U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011, and doubts over the effectiveness of Iraqi police and soldiers.
A national election at the end of the year has also heightened expectations of violence as political parties and armed groups jostle for dominance of the oil-producing nation.
While the violence unleashed in Iraq by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion has fallen dramatically over the past year, insurgent groups such as al Qaeda continue to carry out frequent attacks. Suicide bombings are a hallmark of Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.
Analysts say the sectarian divide remains between Shi'ites and Sunnis that led to tens of thousands being slaughtered, while Kurd-Arab tensions over disputed lands in the north could also provoke renewed conflict.
Amid the bombings on Thursday in Baghdad, in which 32 people died, and in Diyala, in which 57 were killed, most of them Iranian Shi'ite pilgrims, Iraqi authorities announced the arrest of a suspected leader of an al Qaeda-affiliated insurgent group.
But neither they nor the U.S. military were able to confirm on Friday that the person arrested was Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the purported head of a group called the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
Some experts say they remain unconvinced that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi actually exists, speculating that he is a fictional character invented by al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
"Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is, I believe, not a real person, but a title given to an Iraqi who acts as an Iraqi figurehead of ISI/AQI so that they can claim that it is led by Iraqis when, almost certainly, it is led by foreign jihadists," said Terry Kelly, a senior researcher at the Rand Corporation think-tank.
"This is not the first time there have been claims that he has been caught or killed. The previous claims may be true," said Kelly, who served as a policy adviser to the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Date created : 2009-04-24