x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Fragile peace shattered in Iraq

Three women blew themselves up in a crowd of pilgrims, one of a string of attacks in Iraq that has killed at least 56 people.

Three women bombers blew themselves up today in a crowd of Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad, one of a string of attacks in Iraq that killed at least 56 people, undermining hopes of a drop in violence.

Scores of people were also wounded in the attacks, which follow a relative lull in the sectarian violence that has ravaged the country since February 2006, when insurgents blew up a Shiite mosque in the central city of Samarra. The triple attack in Baghdad killed at least 25 pilgrims as they headed to a holy shrine for a major religious ceremony on the Shiite Muslim calendar that has been marred by bloodshed in the past, security officials said.

Another 27 people were killed and 126 others were wounded in a suicide bombing during a protest rally in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, and gunfire in a panicked stampede that followed, local officials said. Among the dead in the Baghdad bombings were women and children, security and hospital officials said, adding that about 70 other people were wounded. The bombers struck in the Karrada district of central Baghdad as pilgrims were making their way on foot towards Kadhimiyah in the north of the Iraqi capital, site of a festival on Tuesday.

"At least 25 people were killed and more than 70 were wounded in three suicide attacks, probably by female suicide bombers," a police official said. Yesterday, gunmen shot dead seven pilgrims in Madin, a town south of Baghdad, despite tight security for Tuesday's ceremony honouring revered imam Mussa Kadhim that is expected to attract up to one million worshippers. Pilgrims from around the country are flocking to the Iraqi capital, prompting authorities to step up security amid concerns over attacks.

Systematic violence - suicide bombings and sectarian killings - have dropped sharply in the capital since a peak in 2006, but Iraqi police are worried about a wave of attacks in the city of six million people. Major Gen Kassam Atta, spokesman for city security, told reporters that his force had information regarding the possibility of attacks targeting pilgrims during this year's festival. "We ask people to help in all ways with our security forces," Major Gen Atta said, adding that up to one million people were expected.

Checks have been particularly stringent amid what appears to be growing trend of using women in insurgent bombings, which have claimed hundreds of lives across the volatile country. The attack in Kirkuk targeted a crowd of people who were protesting a controversial provincial election law, police said. The suicide bomber detonated his explosives amid the crowd, causing a stampede which prompted guards to open fire, officials said. "The victims were people who ran away after the explosion and the other guards in many political parties they opened fire in air," said Najat Hassam, a senior member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). "More people then responded to the gunfire with more shooting. The result of all this was 22 people killed and 120 injured." Kirkuk is often the scene of communal tensions among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens, and the latest violence was sparked by protests over the controversial legislation for planned provincial elections. The draft is currently being reviewed by the Iraqi parliament but many Kurdish and Shiite ministers are opposed to the bill. Kurds in particular are worried that the law will fail to address issues relating to how the provincial council of Kirkuk should be constituted. The question is important to them because it could affect ownership of the northern province's oil resources, claimed by both Arabs and Kurds. Another three men and a woman were killed in a roadside bombing near Baquba, north of Baghdad, police said. *AFP