A series of bloody attacks killed some 50 persons across Baghdad in the midst of a massive Shiite pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Musa Kazem A suicide bombing that targeted the pilgrims passing through the Sunni Arab district of Adhamiya on their way to Kazimiya killed 32 and wounded over 90. Sunni guerrillas launched scattered attacks on pilgrims in other neighborhoods, as well, bringing up the death toll. In Adhamiya, some Sunni Arabs pitched in to help the Shiite victims.
The instability comes as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed his concerns to US Secretary of Defense Bob Gates about Iraq becoming part of an anti-Israel “Eastern Front” when the US withdraws from that country. Netanyahu also pressed Obama on practical measures that can be taken to ensure that a future Palestinian state is genuinely demilitarized (apparently the fear is that Iraq will help smuggle arms into the West Bank.)
The pilgrimage honors the death of the seventh Imam or divinely appointed leader and descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Twelver Shiite Islam honors twelve early Imams or successors to the Prophet, eleven of them his direct descendants. Hundreds of thousands of Shiites converged on the Kazimiya neighborhood where his shrine is located, some coming up from the south of the country.
Around the shrine, Iraqi police enforced a vehicle ban, to stop car bombings, which was successful. They also closed off some streets.
But experience has shown that it is very difficult to stop individual suicide bombers wearing belt bombs who target crowds. Al-Muhit in Arabic alleges that mortar shells were also fired into the crowds.
The attacks are likely to be interpreted as yet another sign that the country’s inability to form a government is creating a vacuum into which violent guerrilla cells are stepping.