Iraq Attacks Kill 27 as Shiites Gather for Ashura

Iraq Attacks Kill 27 as Shiites Gather for Ashura

Violence across Iraq, including bombings against Shiites, killed 27 people today as worshippers massed in a shrine city on the eve of major commemoration rituals often targeted by militants.

The bloodshed was the latest in a months-long surge in unrest that has forced Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to appeal for US help in combating militancy as Iraqi action has failed to stem the unrelenting wave of attacks.

Bombings mostly struck north and west of Baghdad, targeting Shiite Muslims and members of the security forces.

On the outskirts of Baquba, north of the capital and one of Iraq's most violent areas, three coordinated bombs struck a gathering of Shiite pilgrims marking Ashura.

Eight people were killed and 28 others were wounded in the blasts, security and medical officials said.

Millions of Shiites from Iraq and around the world mark Ashura, which this year climaxes tomorrow, by setting up procession tents where food is distributed to passers-by and pilgrims can gather, or by walking to Karbala, which is home to a shrine to Imam Hussein.

Hussein, grandson of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, was killed by the armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD and his death in Karbala has over time come to symbolise the split between Islam's Sunni and Shiite sects.

Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda, who regard Shiites as unbelievers, often step up their targeting of Iraq's majority community during Ashura and the subsequent rituals of Arbaeen.

In past years, pilgrims have been targeted by deadly bombings.

As a result, security measures are stepped up with more than 35,000 soldiers and policemen currently deployed to Karbala and surrounding areas, with concentric security perimeters barring vehicles from entering the city while helicopters hover overhead.

Elsewhere in Iraq today, attacks mostly targeting security forces killed 19 people, while police gunned down three militants in a raid.

East of the predominantly Sunni Arab city of Tikrit, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle rigged with explosives at a police checkpoint, killing 11 people, including three policemen.

And near the former insurgent bastion of Fallujah, two bombs targeted the homes of policemen, followed by a third that went off as onlookers gathered at the scene, leaving four dead overall.

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