Baghdad: At least 12 people were killed on Thursday by bombs targeting pilgrims taking part in the final day of a Shi’ite religious holiday that draws hundreds of thousands of people to Baghdad, Iraqi officials said.
The deaths came one day after nearly 60 people were killed in violence in and around the Iraqi capital, most of them by a suicide bomber who targeted pilgrims heading to a mosque in northern Baghdad to mark the anniversary of the death of a revered Shi’ite figure.
While violence in Iraq has plummeted since the height of the insurgency a few years ago, the attacks targeting devout Shi’ites who walk from across Iraq to take part in the holy occasion underscore the tentative nature of the security gains and the persistent attempts by insurgents to once again foment sectarian divisions.
The attacks come as Iraq is struggling to seat a government a little over four months after the March 07 election failed to bring about a clear winner to lead the country. As opposing political blocs jockey to form a ruling coalition, the ongoing political uncertainty has raised questions about whether insurgents will try to destabilise the country just as American troops are reducing their numbers to 50,000 by the end of August.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks but similar incidents in the past have been blamed on Sunni extremists who view Shi’ites as non-believers and object to the Shi’ite-led government that took over Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Six people died in eastern Baghdad when a roadside bomb exploded on Thursday morning as pilgrims were walking home from the mosque in the Kazimiyah neighbourhood, 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.
Officials also raised the death toll from Wednesday`s single most deadly attack to 35. The attack by a suicide bomber came as Shi’ite pilgrims were just about to cross a bridge from the mostly Sunni neighbourhood of Azamiyah into the predominantly Shi’ite area of Kazimiyah where the shrine is located.
The Imams Bridge connecting the two neighbourhoods was also the site of a deadly stampede in 2005 sparked by a rumour that a suicide bomber was among the crowd; 900 people were killed in the ensuing melee.
The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.
Iraqi security forces have blanketed the city with about 200,000 personnel, and a vehicle ban has been in place across the Kazimiyah neighbourhood in an attempt to thwart attacks.
But the sheer number of pilgrims as well as the spread-out nature of the religious event — with roads around the country blocked to allow pilgrims to walk to and from Baghdad — make it almost impossible for security forces to protect everyone.