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Blast rocks Shiite festivities

Times Staff Writer

Encouraged by a recent lull in violence in the capital, Karim Sami brought his wife and 18-month-old son to one of Baghdad’s most revered shrines Sunday for prayers marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

After paying their respects at the shrine of Musa al Kadhim, an 8th century Shiite Muslim imam, the young family enjoyed some snacks in the courtyard before joining the throngs outside browsing for holiday outfits among the clothing stalls.

“We were on our way out of the area and driving as usual when suddenly there was this big fireball on the opposite side of the road,” said the day laborer, reached at home by telephone. “My wife and child started to cry.”

Iraqi police said a car bomb ripped through passing vehicles, including a minibus carrying worshipers to the shrine, killing at least 10 people and injuring 18. At least two women and two children younger than 14 were among the dead, a hospital official said.

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“It is very sad that the criminals responsible for such attacks would choose such a holy day and place,” Sami said. “It is as if they don’t want any happiness for the Iraqi people, they just want us to suffer.”

The shrine in the northern Kadhimiya neighborhood has been a frequent target of Sunni militants in the city’s sectarian warfare. After the blast, police closed the area to vehicular traffic until further notice.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday, one in a roadside bombing in Baghdad and the other in a noncombat-related incident in Nineveh province, the military said. At least 3,829 U.S. service members have been reported killed since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to the independent website icasualties.org.

U.S. military officials had reported an increase in attacks after the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq declared a new offensive last month at the start of Ramadan, but they said the level of violence remained significantly lower than the same time last year.

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The number of attacks has tapered off since Friday, when Sunnis began the three-day Eid al-Fitr festivities marking the end of the holy month. Shiites started celebrating Saturday. But bombings and assassinations marred festivities in some areas.

Police said Sunday that at least 18 people were killed and 27 injured when a suicide truck bomber attacked a police station in Samarra and gunmen opened fire late Saturday. The two sides clashed until U.S. helicopters arrived and the gunmen fled, police said.

The mostly Sunni Arab city north of Baghdad in Salahuddin province is home to another revered Shiite shrine, whose famed golden dome was destroyed in a bombing claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq last year that unleashed a frenzy of sectarian bloodshed.

On Sunday, gunmen ambushed the vehicles of members of a tribal alliance that was formed in opposition to the militants in Salahuddin, killing three of them and injuring two others, police said. The victims were returning home after visiting relatives in neighboring Tamim province.

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An Iraqi correspondent for the Washington Post was shot and killed while on assignment Sunday in Baghdad’s Sadiya neighborhood. Details of the incident remained unclear, the Post said in a statement. Salih Saif Aldin, 32, joined the paper in early 2004 as a special correspondent in his hometown of Tikrit and later moved to Baghdad.

“Salih’s death reminds us once again of the central role that Iraqi journalists and others have played in our coverage of the war,” the Post said. “They have often borne the risks and made the sacrifices in pursuit of truth.”

At least 118 other journalists have been killed on duty since the start of the Iraq war, 96 of them Iraqis, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

In a sign of continued sectarian killing, police recovered the bodies of five unidentified men from Baghdad’s streets. Two more bullet-riddled bodies were found at different locations near the northern city of Kirkuk. And two people were reported slain near the city of Hillah, about 60 miles south of the capital.

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In the northern city of Mosul, gunmen ambushed the vehicle of two Catholic priests on their way to a funeral and dragged them away, police said. Pope Benedict XVI made an appeal for their release during his traditional Sunday blessing at St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

Christians make up a dwindling minority in Iraq, where militants have characterized the U.S.-led war as a crusade against Islam. Most of the sectarian bloodshed has been between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, but Christian churches have been bombed and clergy abducted.

Last year, a priest was beheaded in Mosul after the pope quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who linked Islam’s teachings to violence.

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alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

Times special correspondents in Baghdad, Hillah, Kirkuk, Mosul and Samarra contributed to this report.


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