Suicide blasts strike Baghdad, Kirkuk
Women kill 57, injure 280; Attacks follow lull in violence
BAGHDAD - Female suicide bombers killed 57 people and left another 280 wounded in three attacks yesterday on Shi'ite pilgrims marching in Baghdad and in another attack on a Kurdish demonstration in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk.
Twenty-five people were killed in Kirkuk and 178 wounded, when a woman strapped with explosives blew herself up. Another 32 people were killed in Baghdad, in addition to 102 wounded in the attacks by three female suicide bombers, police and medical sources said.
The bloodshed occurred at a time when Iraq had been enjoying a four-year low in violence. The fall in attacks prompted senior US officials in Iraq to describe Sunni militants as a spent force no longer capable of toppling Iraq's Shi'ite-led government. The attacks yesterday proved a reminder of how raw Iraq's ethnic and sectarian divisions remain and showcased the ability of extremists to cause damage.
In northern Iraq, an attacker detonated a suicide vest at a Kurdish demonstration in Kirkuk, where Kurdish ambitions to annex the oil-rich territory to their semi-autonomous northern region have sparked the ire of the area's Arabs and Turkmen. The fight for Kirkuk has threatened to derail local elections around the country as the sides have feuded in parliament over the city's future and stalled the passage of a necessary election law.
An estimated 3,000 demonstrators were protesting efforts to strip the Kurds of power in Kirkuk when the bomb exploded. The blast prompted Kurdish demonstrators to attack the nearby office of the Turkmen Front, according to the party. One civilian was killed in the rioting, police said.
The bombing and ensuing melee provided a glimpse of the heated passions over the future boundaries of Iraq's Arab north and its Kurdistan region.
In Baghdad, three female suicide bombers blew themselves up in rapid succession yesterday morning, killing Shi'ite faithful on their way to a sacred shrine in the capital.
At least a million Shi'ites were expected in the capital for the event commemorating the death in 799 of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim, a Shi'ite saint believed to have been poisoned in prison by the Islamic world's caliph.
The spate of bombings happened in the Karrada district, a prosperous commercial area in eastern Baghdad. Shi'ite pilgrim Wissam Abdullah had been trailing behind a pack of women dressed in billowing, dark abbaya robes when an explosion threw him.
At the hospital, he watched doctors move frantically to address the scores of patients. "The government should have prepared for such an event as they happen repeatedly," Abdullah said, whose leg was wounded.
The Iraqi security forces had hired about 200 women to search females around the city, knowing that Al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist groups have increasingly turned to female suicide bombers to evade checkpoints and carry out lethal attacks.
But with up to a million pedestrians flooding the streets and the haphazard searches at various points on the roads, it proved impossible to search every woman.
Many were stunned, thinking the bombings on Shi'ite holidays were a thing of the past.