Blast Kills 2 Shiite Pilgrims South Of Baghdad

By Sameer N. Yacoub

Published January 7, 2012 9:18AM (EST)

BAGHDAD (AP) — A roadside bomb targeting Shiite pilgrims killed two people and wounded eight others south of Baghdad on Saturday, Iraqi officials said.

This was the third day in a row in which bombers presumed to be Sunni insurgents have struck at members of the country's Shiite majority.

Over 80 people have been killed in a wave of violence which Iraqis fear will rekindle the large-scale sectarian bloodshed that brought the country to the edge of civil war several years ago.

Most of the attacks have aimed at Shiites commemorating the Arbaeen, a period ending 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered seventh-century figure.

Saturday's blast targeted pilgrims walking to the holy Shiite city of Karbala as they passed through the town of Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Baghdad, the officials said.

The police and hospital officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to brief the media.

A series of bombings targeting Shiites claimed the lives of at least 78 people on Thursday, marking the second large-scale attack by militants since U.S. forces pulled out last month. Two more Shiite pilgrims were killed Friday.

In the southern city of Basra, about 400 people staged a protest Saturday to denounce a decision by Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, to shelter the country's top Sunni politician after an arrest warrant was issued against him.

Iraq's Shiite-led government called for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi's arrest on terrorism charges just as the last American troops were leaving last month.

The standoff over al-Hashemi is at the heart of an ongoing political crisis pitting the leaders of the country's mostly ethnic- and sectarian-based party blocs against each other.

The protesters demanded Talabani hand over his deputy so that he can stand trial.

Demonstrators hoisted Iraqi flags and banners reading "The Iraqi people demand a trial for al-Hashemi," and "Talabani is behind the sectarian turmoil" while chanting "No to Talabani" and "No to terrorism."

Al-Hashemi is staying in a guesthouse owned by Talabani in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north — effectively out of reach of state security forces.

Some analysts fear that the political crisis, combined with the withdrawal of U.S. forces, will create an atmosphere in which radical armed groups can rebuild themselves.

Sameer N. Yacoub

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