Iraq: Thousands pack streets to mourn dead

Huge crowds have gathered to mourn and bury more than 100 people killed in Tuesday's wave of bombings in Karbala and Baghdad.

    The mourners shout: "America is the enemy of God"

    In Karbala, as the coffin of one local Shia cleric passed, draped in a black flag with verses from the Quran, bystanders on Wednesday reached out to touch it and then held their fingers to their lips whispering "al-Husain", the name of Prophet Muhammad's grandson.  

    At least five bombs tore through Karbala on Tuesday morning,
    just as a major Shia religious festival was concluding, killing at least 112 people and wounding 235, according to a senior local cleric.

    The US military said one of the blasts was caused by a human bomber but the statement could not be confirmed.

    Coordinated strikes against Shia worshippers in Baghdad killed 70, according to the latest Health Ministry figures. 

    In Karbala, mourners paraded the coffins past the scene of
    the attacks, where 24 hours earlier the streets were filled with blood and the bodies of the dead, before carrying them to
    al-Husain mosque, one of the Shia's holiest shrines. 

    There they were draped with Iraqi flags before being borne
    to another nearby shrine. Later on Wednesday more than 50
    coffins are expected to be driven to Najaf, south of Karbala, 
    where they will be buried.

    Fury 

     

    "This attack was carried out by terrorist Wahhabis who do not believe in God. Al-Qaida are cooperating with others to kill the Shia" 

    Salim Killabi,
    mourner

    The mourners were mostly calm, but some were angry at the Americans, who they said had not done enough to protect the Ashura religious processions from attackers. Others laid the blame on extremist Sunni Muslims. 

    "This attack was carried out by terrorist Wahhabis who do not believe in God," said Salim Killabi, a mourner in his 30s, referring to the Sunni strain of Islam which many Iraqi Shia identify with al-Qaida. "Al-Qaida are cooperating with others to kill the Shia." 

    But al-Qaida denied the accusations.

    A letter purportedly from the network denied any role in the explosions and blamed the US. 

    "We have nothing to do with these acts," said the statement

    signed Abu Hafs Brigades/al-Qaida.

    "We strike the American crusaders and their allies. We strike the Iraqi police that work for America, which uses them like a stick to beat the Mujahidin (Islamic fighters) in Iraq."

    The letter was signed by the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades and was sent to the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper.

    'Good day for the dead'

    More than 100 people perished
    in Tuesday's deadly attacks

    As pallbearers carried one coffin through the jostling crowds they shouted out in Arabic: "God is Greatest. America is the enemy of God." 

    But there was also joy among some mourners, who said their relatives and friends who died in the blasts were lucky, having died on the same day as al-Husain who was killed in battle more than 1300 years ago. 

    Ashura is the 10th day of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar).

    "This day is good for the dead," said Nasir Jumaa, from Karbala. "They are martyrs because they died the day they were celebrating Ashura, the day of the martyrdom of Imam Husain." 

    "They sacrificed their souls for al-Husain," cried the muaddhin - the man who makes the call to prayer - at al-Husain mosque, his amplified words echoing across the city. 

    Baghdad mourning

    In Baghdad, people gathered in their thousands at the Kadhimiya mosque.

    Dozens of trucks and buses arrived on Wednesday overflowing with people dressed in mourning black, many who had come from the capital's poor Shia district known as al-Sadr City. Police were out in force.

    Another attack

    "This day is good for the dead. They are martyrs because they died the day they were celebrating Ashura, the day of the martyrdom of Imam Husain" 

    Said Nasir Jumaa,
    resident of Karbala

    The violence continued on Wednesday when an Iraqi civilian was killed when a rocket was fired at Baghdad's central telephone exchange, police said.

    "The rocket was fired at the al-Maamun central telephone exchange killing an Iraqi worker," said the official, on condition of anonymity.

    A major part of the exchange was officially opened last week after months of reconstruction work. The facility was hit by cruise missiles and a bomb when the US-led occupation launched its war to oust Saddam Hussein almost a year ago.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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