x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Suicide bombers hit primary school in northern Iraq

Dozens killed as bombers attack Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad, and a primary school and police station in a Shiite village in northern Iraq.

An Iraqi soldier stands guard as Shiite pilgrims walk to the holy city of Kadhimiya during a religious ritual commemorating the anniversary of Imam Mohammed Al Jawad's death. Saad Shalash / Reuters
An Iraqi soldier stands guard as Shiite pilgrims walk to the holy city of Kadhimiya during a religious ritual commemorating the anniversary of Imam Mohammed Al Jawad's death. Saad Shalash / Reuters

BAGHDAD // Suicide bombers attacked Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad as well as a primary school and police station in a Shiite village in northern Iraq on Sunday, killing at least 24 people, officials said.

The blasts came a day after 73 people died in a series of attacks across the country, including a suicide bomb in a cafe.

Violence is at a level unseen since 2008, amid persistent fears of a relapse into the kind of intense Sunni-Shiite bloodshed that peaked in 2006-2007 and killed tens of thousands of people.

In the capital, a suicide bomber detonated explosives near pilgrims who were walking to a shrine in the north of the city to commemorate the death of Imam Mohammed Al Jawad, the ninth Shiite imam.

The blast killed at least nine people and wounded at least 30, officials said.

A bus parked near the site of the explosion had a streak of blood running from a shattered window down its side.

Body parts hung from a roadside tree, and blood was spattered on a pavement and the underside of a bridge.

Two young boys sifted through debris at the site, where items including sandals and a policeman’s belt buckle lay in a pool of water formed when emergency personnel hosed the street down.

“We are not afraid of the explosion, we are not afraid of death,” said Hussein Haidar, a pilgrim who was walking to the shrine after the attack.

Even after the blast, security forces performed only cursory searches of people entering the area.

Iraq is home to some of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam, and millions of pilgrims visit them each year.

But crowds of pilgrims are frequently targeted by Sunni militants including those linked to Al Qaeda, who consider Shiites to be apostates.

Two more suicide bombers on Sunday targeted the Turkmen Shiite village of Qabak in Nineveh province about 50 kilometres from the border with Syria.

The bombers detonated explosives-rigged vehicles at a police station and a primary school, killing 15 people and wounding 44, local official Abdulal Abbas said.

The dead included 10 children and five police, Mr Abbas said, adding that the school bombing collapsed the building’s roof.

In Iraq, almost nothing is safe from attack by militants.

They have struck highly secure targets such as prisons, and also bombed cafes, markets, mosques, football fields, weddings and funerals.

UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov yesterday called on Iraq’s “political, religious and civil leaders to work together with the security forces” to curb the bloodshed.

“It is their responsibility to ensure that pilgrims can practise their religious duties, that schoolchildren can attend their classes, that journalists can exercise their professional duties, and that ordinary citizens can live a normal life,” Mr Mladenov said.

Meanwhile, British Ambassador Simon Collis said: “This latest example of violence against worshippers and journalists is further evidence of terrorists seeking to create division within Iraq.”

Diplomats and analysts say the Shiite-led government’s failure to address the grievances of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority — which complains of political exclusion and abuses by security forces — has driven the surge in unrest.

Violence worsened sharply after security forces stormed a Sunni Arab anti-government protest camp in northern Iraq on April 23, sparking clashes in which dozens died.

The authorities have made some concessions aimed at placating anti-government protesters and Sunnis in general, such as freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of Sunni anti-Al Qaeda fighters, but underlying issues remain.

And while security forces have carried out wide-ranging operations against militants for more than two months, they have yet to succeed in curbing the wave of attacks.

The latest violence takes this month’s death toll to at least 160, and more than 4,850 since the beginning of the year, according to figures tallied from security and medical sources.

*Agence France-Presse