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By Safa Haeri
Posted Tuesday, March 2, 2004

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BAGHDAD, 2 Mar. (IPS) At least between 140 and 200 people, some of them Iranians, were killed and many more wounded after presumed suicide terrorists exploded bombs on Tuesday at a time that million of Sh’ite Muslims were mourning the martyr of imam Hoseyn, their most revered saints killed 680 AD and in Karbala, 120 kilometres southeast of Baghdad and in Kazemeyn, near the capital.

At almost the same time and thousands of kilometres east of Iraq, some 40 people were killed and dozens injured when in the Pakistani city of Quetta, Shi’ites marking a similar commemorations, known as Ashoura, or the 10th day of the month of Moharram in the Muslim calendar, were fired on from different directions.

Although no group has taken responsibility, but anti-terrorist experts believe that the deadly operations in Iraq and Pakistan were "highly coordinated and carefully executed".

Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Iran's vice president for Legal and Parliamentary affairs blamed the attacks on al-Qa’eda, which, in his opinion, "considers Shi’ites more dangerous than the United States, their political enemy".

"The reactionary al-Qa’eda terror group reached a conclusion ... that they have two enemies: the United States as the political enemy and Shi’ites as the ideological enemy", Mr. Abtahi wrote on his own website.

"Abtahi's comments about al-Qaida are noteworthy because the United States has accused Iran of harboring al-Qae’da fugitives, many of whom are believed to have fled there from neighbouring Afghanistan in late 2001 or early 2002 during the Taleban's fall", observed Mr. Ali Akbar Dareini of the Associated Press.

At least 22 Iranian Shi’ite pilgrims were among those killed in Karbala and 69 wounded, Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Ali-Asqar Ahmadi said, quoted by Iran's student news agency ISNA. But state television quoted hospital sources in Karbala as saying more than 75 percent of the dead and more than 90 percent of the injured were Iranians.

"I saw a man running into a group of Iranian pilgrims and exploding himself", Karbala police Captain Mahdi Ghanami told the French news agency AFP, as thousands Iranian Shi’ites who had crossed the border from neighbouring Iran, were in the city for the Ashoura mourning commemorations.

A senior police officer, Major Chasb Jaburi, said four Iranians and one Iraqi had been arrested, but the Iranians would be released, as they were not involved. The Iraqi was still being investigated.

Eyewitness said at least six bombs exploded in the holy city of Karbala, where the Muslim’s Prophet’s grand son is buried and almost at the same time, three others went off in the shrines of imam Mousa Kazem and his grandson, imam Mohammad al-Jawad at Kazemeyn, killing at least 50 people.

The combined toll made it the deadliest since the joint Anglo-American invasion of Iraq last April that toppled the Iraqi sanguine dictator Saddam Hoseyn, who had forbidden the Shi’ites, which make the majority of the Iraqi 26 million populations, to hold the ceremonies.

"The Karbala blasts were a coordinated attack involving a suicide bomber and other devices", correspondents quoted US Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt as having indicated, putting the dead toll in Karbla at 85 dead and some 230 injured.

Speaking at a press conference after the blasts, the officer named the Jordanian national Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, suspected of links to the al-Qa’eda group in Iraq, as a "chief suspect" in the bloody operations.

"All the indications we have is that he (Zarqawi) is a prime suspect, if not the prime suspect. Let's acknowledge the fact that this was a very sophisticated attack, well coordinated. This was not a pick-up team, this was not an organisation that was just started", Kimmitt said, as some angry religious chiefs on the scenes blamed the attacks on "Jews and Americans".

"When questioned, guards and caretakers angrily blamed America for the attacks, just as they had blamed American troops for a single rocket-propelled grenade shot into the shrine last Wednesday night. The head caretaker explained that the bombings were a warning from America to leading Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to cease demanding that direct elections be held in the country. Other guards and caretakers blamed a coalition of Jews, Americans and extreme Wahhabi Muslims. None spoke of seeking revenge against their Sunni neighbours, the presumed purpose of the attacks", reported correspondent Nir Rosen in the Hong Kong’s "Asia Times Online" internet newspaper.

The Iranian embattled President Mohammad Khatami criticized the United States, saying, in a message of condolences to the Iraqi people, that "It has become clear today that occupation of Iraq not only has not brought stability and security to this country but has increasingly taken away peace from the Iraqi nation and caused many damages to them," state television quoted Khatami as saying.

Iran, the world’s largest Shi’ite populated nation, was among the first countries to condemn the explosions. Tehran was followed by the leaders of most Muslim and Western nations to strongly denounce the terrorist operations both in Iraq and Pakistan.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani also blamed the Americans for not providing security on the holiest day of the Shi’ite calendar.

In a statement on his Web site, the Iranian-born Sistani said that "words are insufficient to condemn these hideous crimes". He held coalition forces responsible, saying they have been too slow to control Iraq's borders against infiltrators and have not given Iraqi security forces the necessary equipment.

Fearing a religion war, the Sunni-based Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the components of the America-installed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) immediately condemned the attacks strongly, saying, "Iraqi Shi'ites and Sunnis walk hand-in-hand". Other IGC members, including the Kurds, were also quick to denounce the massacre, and the IGC called for three days of mourning.

The attacks also came one day before the expected signing of Iraq's "Basic Law, or an interim constitution. The IGC came to an agreement on the document on Monday, but decided to wait until after Ashoura to hold the signing ceremony.

But a source close to the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SAIRI), a major member of the interim government said the signing of the temporary constitution was being delayed. ENDS IRAQ EXPLOSIONS 2304



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