Iraqi suicide bomb kills at least 53 pilgrims in Basra

Basra hospital received 53 killed and 137 wounded after the blast, said Dr
Riyadh Abdul-Amir, the head of the Basra Health Directorate. He said some of
the wounded were in serious condition, and warned that the death toll may
rise further.

The explosion came as Shi’ite pilgrims commemorate the climax of Arbain, which
marks the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death
of Imam Hussein, a revered Shi’ite. Pilgrims who cannot make it to the holy
city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad, often journey to other sacred sites such
as the shrine near Zubeir.

Majid Hussein, a government employee, was one of the pilgrims heading to the
shrine. He said people began running away in panic when they heard a loud

“I saw several dead bodies and wounded people, including children on the
ground asking for help. There were also some baby strollers left at the
blast site,” he said.

The attack, which bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents, is the latest in a
series of deadly strikes in this year’s Arbain. More than 145 people have
been killed.

The largest of the Arbain attacks – a wave of apparently co-ordinated bombings
in Baghdad and outside the southern city of Nasiriyah – killed at least 78
people on Jan 5. It was the deadliest strike in Iraq in more than a year.

So far there has been little sign of the revenge attacks by Shi’ite militias
and others that brought the country to the edge of civil war in 2006.

But this wave of attacks comes at a particularly tense time.

The last US combat troops left the country on Dec 18. Many Iraqis resented the
foreign presence, but the Americans also guaranteed the status quo. Many
Sunnis fear being marginalised in the now Shi’ite-dominated country
following the US departure.

Just as the American troops were leaving, a political crisis erupted that has
paralysed Iraq’s government. It pits the country’s mostly ethnic- and
religious-based political blocs against one another.

The political dispute appears far from being resolved.

On Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq called for Iraq’s leader,
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to step down or face a parliamentary vote of
no-confidence. Al-Mutlaq’s Sunni-backed Iraqiya party has been boycotting
parliament and cabinet meetings since last month to protest what it sees as
efforts by al-Maliki to consolidate power, particularly over state security

Al-Maliki’s government, meanwhile, has demanded the arrest of the country’s
top Sunni politician, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of Iraqiya, accusing
him of running a hit squad targeting government officials. Al-Hashemi denies
the allegations.

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