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More than 60 killed as major Shiite festival ends

Times Staff Writer

Sectarian warfare directed mostly at Shiite Muslim pilgrims and worshipers celebrating the climax of an important religious holiday left more than 60 Iraqis dead Tuesday.

In addition, details emerged about arrests in the wake of a bold Jan. 20 insurgent raid on a joint U.S.-Iraqi security compound in Karbala in which a U.S. soldier was killed and four other American soldiers were captured and shot to death miles away.

A police official in Hillah said four Saudi Arabians staying in a Karbala hotel were arrested in connection with the attack. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. and Iraqi officials had seized maps and other documents.

The official also said U.S. officials were heading the investigation of the well-synchronized raid, in which gunmen posing as American soldiers or contractors stormed the compound, disabled U.S. vehicles and whisked away the soldiers.

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Four others of undetermined nationality also were arrested near the site where the gunmen shot the soldiers, shed their equipment and fled.

Aside from a news release issued Friday, U.S. officials have declined to comment on the raid.

Thousands of Shiite pilgrims from around the world, including Saudis, descend on Karbala for Ashura, the religious festival.

Tuesday’s violence was concentrated in religiously mixed areas of the capital and a province to the northeast.

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The day’s deadliest incident took place in Diyala, a religiously and ethnically mixed province that borders Iran. In the Balad Ruz region, 40 miles east of the provincial capital, Baqubah, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt among worshipers engaged in Ashura street demonstrations, killing at least 23 Shiites and injuring 57.

In nearby Khanaqin, a town of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites along the border, at least eight people were killed and 30 injured when a bomb planted along a roadway near a mosque exploded during an Ashura procession.

In southwest Baghdad, at least 18 pilgrims were killed and 18 wounded when gunmen opened fire on buses ferrying people home from Karbala, the shrine city where hundreds of thousands of Shiites commemorated the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

Mortar battles raged between Sunni and Shiite enclaves of the capital. At least a dozen mortar shells landed in Adhamiya, home to an important Sunni shrine, killing 10 people and injuring 16.

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A mortar shell struck a building in the northern Baghdad district of Kadhimiya, home to a Shiite shrine, killing one and injuring nine. Another struck a house in the mostly Sunni neighborhood of Jihad, inflicting casualties on the family inside.

Gunmen in the Sunni-dominated Dora district shot to death a Shiite man helping his mother remove furniture from their home, which they had abandoned because of sectarian threats, police said. The mother was also killed and the man’s wife wounded.

Iraqi authorities in the capital discovered the bodies of at least eight young men who had been fatally shot in apparent sectarian death-squad killings.

A U.S. soldier was killed Monday near the southern city of Nasiriya when his vehicle rolled over in an accident, the U.S. military said Tuesday. The death brought the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion to 3,081, according to icasualties.org.

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The U.S. military also reported a weekend suicide bombing of a fire station that killed 16 people near Ramadi. A driver plowed a dump truck filled with explosives and a chlorine tank into the compound.

“There are no indications of any casualties caused by the release of chlorine gas,” the military statement said.

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daragahi@latimes.com

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Special correspondents in Baghdad, Baqubah and Kirkuk contributed to this report.


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