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32 Pilgrims Are Killed by Bombings in Central Iraq
Published: January 3, 2013
BAGHDAD — Attackers killed at least 32 pilgrims in Iraq on Thursday, the police said, in what appeared to be a spate of sectarian-motivated violence as the country continued to struggle with a political crisis in its fractured government.
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At the culmination of one of Shiite Islam’s holiest rituals, at least 28 people were killed and 35 were wounded when a car bomb exploded in central Musayyib, a police official in Babil Province said. The apparent targets were pilgrims returning from the holy city of Karbala, where Shiites observe the end of the 40-day annual mourning period for the death of Imam Hussein ibn Ali, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
In another attack in southeast Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded as a minibus carrying Shiite pilgrims passed, killing 4 people and wounding 15, the police said.
The Shiite pilgrimage to commemorate the imam’s death, banned while Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, has flourished since the American-led invasion overthrew him in 2003. Millions travel to Karbala, where the imam is buried, or to neighboring areas each year. Attacks on the pilgrims reflect some of the sectarian frictions that have plagued Iraq in recent years. At least 27 people were killed in 2010; about 52 in 2011; and 53 in 2012 in attacks related to the pilgrimage.
Tensions have mounted in recent weeks with demonstrations in Sunni-dominated areas against the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. On Thursday, protesters in Ramadi continued to block some main trade routes leading to Syria and Jordan, and there were demonstrations in Salahuddin and Kirkuk as well.
Some progress may have been achieved this week on one of the demonstrators’ demands. A Justice Ministry official said Thursday that a committee instructed by Mr. Maliki to investigate the cases of female prisoners announced that 11 of them would be released, in addition to 2 teenagers. Other female prisoners will be transferred to locations in their home provinces.
It was not clear whether the steps would do much to calm tempers inflamed after a raid last month by security forces on the office and home of the Sunni finance minister, Rafie al-Issawi, and the arrest of 10 bodyguards, fueling accusations that Mr. Maliki was moving to monopolize power and sideline his political opponents before provincial elections scheduled for the spring.
Sadoun Obeid al-Shalan, the deputy chairman of the provincial council in Anbar, where most of the protests have been held, said that three of the released detainees were from that province. “The protesters have welcomed the initiative and demanded the release of the others,” he said.
Mr. Maliki, who appeared on state television on Thursday marching alongside some of the Shiite pilgrims, told demonstrators this week to stop their protests or face government action, saying they had been exploited by various groups for their own interests to the detriment of national unity. His critics, including the Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr, have said that Mr. Maliki alone is responsible for provoking the unrest.
The speaker of Iraq’s Parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, lashed out in a statement on Thursday against what he called Mr. Maliki’s threats, saying that “the people” were Iraq’s highest authority after the end of the former government.
Yasir Ghazi reported from Baghdad, and Christine Hauser from New York.
A version of this article appeared in print on January 4, 2013, on page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: 32 Pilgrims Are Killed By Bombings In Central Iraq.
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