Fri, Apr 10, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Blast near Baghdad shrine kills seven people

ANTI-US Thousands of supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr joined a protest against the occupation of Iraq six years after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime

AP AND AFP , BAGHDAD

Supporters of anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gather in Firdous Square in central Baghdad, Iraq, yesterday for a rally marking the sixth anniversary of the fall of the Iraqi capital to US troops.

PHOTO: AP

A bomb left in a plastic bag exploded on Wednesday near Baghdad’s most important Shiite shrine, killing seven people and wounding 23, police said.

The blast occurred in the same neighborhood where an infant was rescued from a burning car the day before after an explosion killed his mother. The man who rescued the infant said the baby boy was handed over on Wednesday to his uncle.

Wednesday’s attack was part of a wave of violence that hit Iraq this week, primarily in Shiite areas of Baghdad.

The uptick coincided with a five-hour visit on Tuesday by US President Barack Obama, who told US troops that “there is still a lot of work to do” in Iraq despite the new focus on the war in Afghanistan.

The bomb exploded in a pedestrian shopping area in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Kazimiyah, about 100m from the tomb of Imam Mousa al-Kazim — one of the 12 Shiite saints.

Just a day earlier in Kazimiyah, nine people were killed in a car bombing, including a mother who was riding in a taxi with her infant son. A salesman, Asad Raad, plucked the boy from the back seat of the burning car where he lay next to his dead mother.

No group has claimed responsibility for the recent blasts, but the US military blames al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni extremist group that has targeted Shiite civilians in the past.

Meanwhile, thousands of supporters of the anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr yesterday protested the occupation of Iraq, six years after the toppling of a Saddam Hussein statue symbolized the fall of his regime.

Crowds lined the streets leading to Firdos Square in Baghdad, where Saddam’s giant bronze sculpture was wrestled to the ground with the help of US Marines in 2003, an iconic image that signaled the end of his dictatorial rule.

Many of the demonstrators chanted “No no America, Yes Yes Iraq” as others carried placards adorned with pictures of Sadr, the radical Shiite leader who became a key figure and symbol of resistance after the US-led invasion.

Some of the protestors waded through mud to reach the head of the procession after Baghdad was hit by a rare bout of rain, which peaked during the morning demonstration.

Many of those gathered had camped out overnight or sheltered in nearby mosques, having travelled to the capital from Iraq’s mainly Shiite south.

“I came yesterday with about 500 of my friends to demonstrate against the occupation and demand its end and to call for the unity of the Iraqi people,” said Raad Saghir, 28, from Kut, 175km south of Baghdad.

The sixth anniversary of the US-led coalition’s invasion on March 20 saw Sadr supporters use that day’s Friday prayers to call for an end to the occupation. But Thursday’s protest was bigger in scale.

The red, white and black colors of the Iraqi flag were prominent as thousands of people swarmed the streets in a crowd that stretched back hundreds of meters.

“I came yesterday morning with about 100 Basra residents, to reject the occupation and ask for their withdrawal,” said Raad Muhsin, an unemployed 28-year-old from Iraq’s southern port city.

Sadr, currently believed to be in Iran, founded the feared Mehdi Army militia after Saddam’s fall, which was accused of kidnapping and killing Sunnis during the 2006 sectarian conflict that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.

His movement, which draws broad support from poorer Shiites, has long been a staunch opponent of the US-led military presence in Iraq.

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