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In Iraq, Grisly Attacks Stain Shi'ite Holiday

Shi'ites during Ashura observance today, when attackers killed at least 42 people in Iraq 19 February 2005 -- A recent series of bloody attacks continued in Iraq today, with bombers or gunmen killing at least 42 people and wounding scores of others, including Shi'ite faithful and family members mourning victims of yesterday's violence.

The most recent attacks came as hundreds of thousands of Shi'ites throughout the country marked one of the most important events on the Shi'ite Muslim calendar, the religious festival of Ashura. Ashura commemorates the 7th-century martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

At least eight suicide bombers staged attacks in and around the capital Baghdad today, targeting religious gatherings and Iraqi checkpoints.

Today's violence follows a series of deadly attacks on Shi'ite mosques in and around Baghdad yesterday that killed at least 27 people.

The attacks also came as a five-member U.S. Congressional delegation that includes Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona) and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (Democrat-New York), met with Iraqi government officials in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Major Shi'ite Holiday

In Karbala, tens of thousands of worshippers crowded around the city's Imam Husayn Mosque, chanting slogans and pounding their chests.

Security has been tight in Karbala and Baghdad in a bid to prevent a repeat of the coordinated suicide attacks that killed more than 170 people at Ashura ceremonies one year ago.

But still, the violence continued today.

An Iraqi Defense Ministry official, Captain Sabah Yasin, said that insurgents carried out attacks using suicide bombers, mortars, and gunmen, across the country.

In Baq'uba, a car bomb exploded outside an Iraqi National Guard base, killing one Iraqi guardsman and a civilian.

The U.S. military said an explosion on a bus in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad today killed 17 people and wounded 41. The military said a man wearing an explosives-laden vest got on the bus in the Khadamiya neighborhood and blew himself up.

Attacks On Mourners

In another incident, gunmen opened fire on a Baghdad funeral procession, wounding several mourners.

Then a suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up among another crowd of mourners in the capital. Four people were killed and nearly 40 others wounded in that incident.

They had been attending the funeral of a woman killed in another suicide bombing yesterday.

A witness, Hamid Rashid Talal, said relatives of the dead woman were among those killed.

"He [the bomber] drove right here and blew himself up," the witness said. "He exploded here [points] on this spot, and his motorcycle flew up there [points]. People who were killed are the husband of the dead woman, two of his sons, a relative, and two of his grandsons. It was a very big loss."

Political Context

This year, Ashura comes just days after an announcement that a Shi'ite political alliance had secured victory in Iraq's first post-Saddam Hussein elections on 30 January.

That victory hands power to the country's majority Shi'ites for the first time after decades of oppression under Saddam Hussein and his Ba'athist regime.

Sectarian tensions have been running high since the elections.

Many fear the violence is by Sunni Muslim insurgents intent on provoking civil war.

But Shi'ite leaders have repeatedly urged the faithful not to retaliate with violence.

(compiled from agency reports)

[For more on events in Iraq, see RFE/RL's dedicated Iraq Votes 2005 and The New Iraq webpages.]

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