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Al-Sistani Blames U.S. Coalition For Iraq Attacks

Baghdad, 2 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Shi'a spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has blamed the U.S.-led coalition for explosions in Baghdad and Karbala today, saying coalition forces had not done enough to secure the country's borders.

The statement from al-Sistani came after nearly simultaneous attacks on Shi'a marking the festival of Ashura in Baghdad and Karbala killed at least 143 people and injured hundreds more.

At least three suicide bombers detonated explosives near a mosque in Baghdad, killing 58 people. In Karbala, more than 1 million Shiites were crowding the streets to mark Ashura when explosions killed 85 people.

U.S. General Mark Kimmitt said the attacks were "very sophisticated." He said a prime suspect is Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian with links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist group.

"Certainly, one of the chief suspects in this would be [Abu Mussab al-]Zarqawi, just by the methods that have been used in the past, just by the techniques that have been used in the past, by the axiom of suicidal, spectacular, symbolic, all those would point to some sort of transnational organization, probably had some local assistance, but very, very indicative of the modus that we have seen in some of the other suicide attacks as well," Kimmit said.

The Iraqi Governing Council has declared a three-day period of mourning because of today's attacks, which were collectively the most devastating since U.S. President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on 1 May 2003.

Shi'a were also targeted today in the Pakistani city of Quetta, where at least 41 people were killed and more than 150 others were wounded in an attack on a religious procession.