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Shiite faithful pilgrims gather in front of the Imam Hussein Shrine in Karbala for Arbaeen. Hadi Mizban/AP/Press Association Images
Basra

Bomb kills 30 pilgrims in Iraq

It is still unclear if the blast was caused by a suicide attacker or roadside bomb.

AT LEAST 30 Shiite pilgrims were killed following a bomb blast near the southern port city of Basra today, Iraqi officials have confirmed.

The latest in a series of attacks during Shiite religious commemorations, the bomb increases sectarian tensions just weeks after the US withdrew its troops.

About 90 people were also wounded in the blast, said Dr. Riyadh Abdul-Amir, the head of Basra Health Directorate.

Witnesses said the attack occurred outside the town of Zubair, southwest of Basra, as pilgrims were making their way to a Shiite shrine nearby.

The governor of Basra province’s spokesman, Ayad al-Emarah, said it was not clear whether the blast was caused by a suicide attacker or a roadside bomb.

Zubair is a predominantly Sunni enclave in Iraq’s largely Shiite south.

Loud explosion

The explosion came as Shiites commemorate the climax of Arbaeen, which marks the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure.

Majid Hussein, a government employee, was one of the pilgrims heading to the shrine. He said people began running away in panic when they heard a loud explosion.

“I saw several dead bodies and wounded people, including children on the ground asking for help. There were also some baby strollers left at the blast site,” he said.

The attack, which bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents, is the latest in a series of deadly strikes in this year’s Arbaeen. Scores of pilgrims have been killed.

Destablising

The largest of the Arbaeen attacks – a wave of apparently coordinated bombings in Baghdad and outside the southern city of Nasiriyah – killed at least 78 people on 5 January. It was the deadliest strike in Iraq in more than a year.

The attacks raise fears of a new sectarian rift that could destabilise the country now that US troops are gone.

The last US combat troops left Iraq on 18 December, ending a nearly nine-year war. Many Iraqis worry that a resurgence of Sunni and Shiite militancy could follow the Americans’ withdrawal. In 2006, a Sunni attack on a Shiite shrine triggered a wave of sectarian violence that pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

Political uncertainty

Just as the American troops were leaving, a political crisis erupted that has paralysed Iraq’s government. It pits the country’s mostly ethnic- and religious-based political blocs against one another.

Iraq’s Sunni minority dominated the government under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, but since he was overthrown, Shiites have controlled most key posts.

The political dispute appears far from being resolved.

On Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq called for Iraq’s leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to step down or face a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. Al-Mutlaq’s Sunni-backed Iraqiya party has been boycotting parliament and Cabinet meetings since last month to protest what it sees as efforts by al-Maliki to consolidate power, particularly over state security forces.

Al-Maliki’s government, meanwhile, has demanded the arrest of the country’s top Sunni politician, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of Iraqiya, accusing him of running a hit squad targeting government officials. Al-Hashemi denies the allegations.

Read more: Car bombs kill 16 in Iraqi capital>

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Author
Associated Foreign Press
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