Targeting Shi'ites, insurgents kill 3 in separate blasts
Security increased as pilgrims end mourning period
BAGHDAD -- Insurgents targeted Shi'ite pilgrims heading to a religious ceremony in Karbala yesterday, setting off two explosions that killed at least three people.
In Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad, a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up near a police patrol protecting the pilgrims, Captain Muthana al-Furati of the Hillah police force said. Two police officers were killed. The attack wounded two other officers and three civilians.
The other bombing took place at the Imam al-Khedher shrine compound in Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad. The attack killed one pilgrim and wounded two others resting at the compound, Colonel Abdullah Hessoni Abdullah said.
Pilgrims travel to Karbala to mark al-Arbaeen, the end of a 40-day mourning period after the anniversary of the seventh-century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, one of the Shi'ite religion's top saints. Shi'ites make up 60 percent of Iraq's estimated 26 million people and have dominated the new government.
Security was heightened in the already heavily fortified Green Zone of Baghdad, where the National Assembly will hold its long-awaited second session today to choose a parliament speaker and two deputies.
Negotiators haggled over who would get the parliament speaker job, considering interim President Ghazi al-Yawer. They hope the inclusion of Sunni Arabs like him in the new government will help quell the Sunni-led insurgency.
But Yawer turned down the post and instead asked the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance for the vice president's post, said Ali Faisal, political coordinator for the Shi'ite Political Council, which is part of the alliance.
Alliance members agreed to nominate former nuclear scientist Hussain al-Shahristani as one of two deputy parliament speakers and interim Finance Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi as one of two vice presidents.
Alliance negotiator Jawad al-Maliki said the Sunni Arabs were expected to name a candidate for the parliament's speaker position today.
Interim Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib predicted that militants will target today's National Assembly meeting -- only the second since the parliament was elected nearly two months ago in the nation's first free election in 50 years. The lawmakers met March 16 but repeatedly have postponed a second meeting because of negotiations over Cabinet positions.
Roads were blocked off yesterday, and security was tightened around the area, already surrounded by concrete blast walls and barbed wire. Several mortar rounds slammed into the banks of the Tigris River, just short of the Green Zone.
At a news conference, Naqib said the Iraqi Army may be capable of securing the nation in 18 months.
Naqib said US troops would then be able to begin slowly pulling out of parts of the country. ''We hope that next summer, there will be a huge reduction in the numbers of multinational patrols," he said. ''In some cities, there will be no foreign troops at all."
''I think it will collapse very soon," he said of the country's insurgency, but he gave no timetable for US troop withdrawal.
The interior minister added that Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, ''has been surrounded in more than one area, and we hope for the best."
Zarqawi's organization has claimed responsibility for kidnappings and killings across Iraq. On Sunday, militants posted a video on the Internet showing the purported execution of a man identifying himself as Interior Ministry official Colonel Ryadh Gatie Olyway. The authenticity of the tape could not be verified.
Residents were already expressing frustration with the gap in governance, as some lame-duck ministries struggled to provide services. Tensions rose Sunday when bodyguards outside the Science and Technology Ministry shot at several dozen protesting employees demanding to be paid in full. One person was killed.
Some employees said they had only received partial paychecks.
Naqib defended the actions, saying the demonstrators were trying to enter the ministry's offices and bodyguards simply were doing their jobs. Haithem Jassim, one of three people injured in the melee, said the demonstrators did not have any weapons.
Naqib warned citizens not to protest, saying the gatherings were an invitation for a large-scale terrorist attack.
''Iraq has witnessed more bloodshed than it should," he said. ''We are witnessing a situation in which Iraqi blood is becoming very cheap."