Baghdad, December 25, 2009 – A roadside bomb killed
six Shiite Muslim pilgrims Friday during a procession, the latest
violence targeting the group during observances of a religious holiday,
The deaths followed heightened tensions in a northern Iraqi town after
troops were deployed following a scuffle between Christians and Shiites
over holiday decorations.
Observances of the ten-day Shiite festival of Ashoura, which ends on
Dec. 27, coincided Friday with Christian celebrations of Christmas.
The government has been trying to assure people it can protect both
Shiites and Christians during the two holidays. During Ashoura, hundreds
of thousands of pilgrims converge on the holy city of Karbala.
In the days leading up to the event, large processions of men go through
the streets of Shiite neighborhoods, beating their chests and using
chains to flay their backs in a show of grief over the 7th-century
killing of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein.
The gatherings, practically banned under Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein,
have often been targeted by insurgents as a way to sow sectarian divide.
The bomb in the capital killed six pilgrims and injured 17, including a
local politician, said a policeman in Sadr city in eastern Baghdad. A
medic and another policeman confirmed the number of dead. All officials
spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak
to the media.
In a northern Iraqi town, troops were deployed and a brief curfew was
imposed after three guards at a Christian church were injured during a
dispute between Shiites and Christians over competing religious
The confrontation in Bartela, 240 miles (390 kilometers) northwest of
Baghdad, comes as many Christians in Iraq tamped down celebrations to
avoid offending Shiites, who are making pilgrimages to the southern holy
city of Karbala to commemorate the killing of Imam Hussein. His death
sealed the split between Shiites and Sunnis.
A police official said Christians in Bartela had pulled down black flags
hung to mark Ashoura. The flags were flying near where a church was
preparing for Christmas Mass. The police official spoke on condition of
anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Three church guards were slightly injured in the melee, the police
official said. A brief curfew was put in place after the incident.
The office of the provincial governor, Atheel al-Nujaifi, issued a
statement saying he and police officials met with leaders of both groups
shortly afterward. He blamed "outsiders who wanted to drive a wedge
between Christians and Muslims."
Sayyid Harith Al-Odari, an aide to the powerful anti-American cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr, said in his Friday sermon, "We offer our thanks and
appreciation to our Christian brothers for respecting Ashoura by
shortening their celebrations on the occasion of Christ's birth."
The incidents come a day after Shiite pilgrims were targeted in a
handful of bombing attacks that left dozens dead. In the worst of those
attacks, police on Friday raised the toll to 19 killed and 80 wounded in
a double bombing in Hillah, 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Baghdad.
Northwest of Mosul, near the border with Syria, a car bomb exploded near
Kurdish Peshmerga forces, killing one and wounding 10 others, police
said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were
not authorized to speak to the media.
Source: The Associated Press, December 25, 2009