Tue, Nov 09, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Car bomber kills seven in Iraq

RELIGIOUS TENSIONS:The suicide blast aimed at pilgrims also injured 34 as political leaders prepared to meet in Arbil to resolve government deadlock

Reuters and AFP, BAGHDAD, KARBALA, IRAQ and PARIS

A car bomb aimed at Iranian pilgrims killed seven people in Iraq’s holy Shiite city of Kerbala yesterday, an official said, shortly before a meeting that could break an eight-month deadlock over a new government.

Thirty-four people were wounded by the blast at one of the entrances to Kerbala, site of two of the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam, said Mohammed al--Moussawi, head of the Kerbala Provincial Council. Four of the dead were Iranians, he said.

Hospital officials, however, said 38 were wounded.

The bomber drew his booby-trapped vehicle up next to a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims, then detonated his payload, police officials said.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranian religious tourists have visited Shiite holy sites in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion toppled former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Saddam crushed insurrections by Iraq’s Shiite majority, banned Shiite religious festivals and fought an eight-year war with Iran.

The pilgrims are often targeted by Sunni Islamist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq, which view Shiite Muslims as apostates.

The bombing came as Iraq’s -political factions were preparing to meet in Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, to try to forge a deal on a new government eight months after an inconclusive election that produced no outright winner.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, is close to securing a second term but is still trying to win over leaders of a Sunni-backed cross-sectarian alliance.

Today’s meeting follows declarations in Baghdad on Sunday that the main Shiite and Sunni Arab-backed blocs in parliament had reached a deal whereby al-Maliki, a Shiite, would stay on as prime minister, a spokesman said.

“An agreement was reached yesterday among the political parties in which Jalal Talabani [a Kurd] will continue as head of state, Nuri al-Maliki will stay on as prime minister and [mainly Sunni-backed] Iraqiya will choose its candidate for parliament speaker,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Sunday.

He said both Maliki and former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi would attend today’s meeting.

Iraqiya, headed by Allawi, won narrowly more seats than the Maliki bloc in the March 7 election and the two men had been bickering ever since over who should be prime minister.

Dabbagh said that some problems still needed to be resolved, but that parliament would meet on Thursday to choose a speaker, the first step toward forming a new government.

In related news, France sent a plane to Iraq yesterday to fetch 36 Iraqis who were wounded in a deadly hostage-taking at a Baghdad church, the foreign ministry said.

The plane was due to bring the 36, who bear bullet and grenade wounds, along with 21 companions to Paris last night.

France promised to help the most seriously wounded after the Oct. 31 shoot-out when al-Qaeda gunmen stormed a Syriac Catholic cathedral during mass, prompting an assault by Iraqi and US security forces. Forty-six people were killed.

French Immigration Minster Eric Besson on Sunday said a second group of 93 people would be brought to France “in the coming weeks.”

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