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BAGHDAD: A wave of bombings and shootings across Iraq killed 23 people yesterday as the country grappled with anti-government rallies and simmering political crises ahead of major Shia commemoration rituals.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in more than a dozen towns and cities that wounded 83 people, but Sunni militants such as Al Qaeda’s front group in Iraq regularly target officials and security forces in a bid to destabilise the government, and also often attack Shiite pilgrims.
The violence comes after anti-government protesters blocked a key highway to Syria and Jordan, amid political tensions between Shiite Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and a secular Sunni-backed party in his fragile national unity government. Much of yesterday’s violence targeted Shia pilgrims, ahead of Arbaeen commemoration ceremonies due this week.
In the deadliest attack, seven people - three women, two children and two men - were killed when three houses were blown up in the town of Mussayib, south of Baghdad, police and a medic said. Four others were wounded.
The victims were apparently targeted because they were Shias, the officials said.
Shia pilgrims embarking on the traditional walk to the holy shrine city of Karbala for Arbaeen commemorations were hit by three mortar strikes south of Baghdad that killed one worshipper and wounded nine others. A series of attacks in restive Diyala province, north of Baghdad, wounded 19 people, including 10 Shiite pilgrims who were walking to Karbala.
Arbaeen marks 40 days after the Ashura anniversary commemorating the slaying of Imam Hussein, one of Shiite Islam’s most revered figures, by the armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD.
Sunni militants often use the rituals as an opportunity to increase attacks against Shias.