Dozens Are Killed in Blasts at Shiite Ceremonies in Iraq
Published: March 2, 2004
AGHDAD, Iraq, March 2 — A series of bombs and explosions ripped through Shiite Muslim religious ceremonies in Baghdad and the city of Karbala today, killing at least 100 people who were among hundreds of thousands on pilgrimages to ancient shrines.
Streaks of blood and bits of flesh clung to the walls and stone floors of the Imam Musa al-Khadam shrine in the Khadamiya district of Baghdad, after two suicide bombers blew themselves up at its doors, and a third detonated his bomb inside the shrine, according to witnesses and a militia guard at the shrine, Hussein Hamad.
As panicked pilgrims fled for an exit, a fourth suicide bomber blew himself up there, Mr. Hamad and other witnesses said.
"Hundreds of people were in the street and it was a big mess," said one of the caretakers of the mosque, Saad Abdul-Zahara. "As soon as the explosion hit us everybody started running. The streets were full of bleeding women."
He added: "I saw the suicide bomber walk into the crowd and then he blew himself up and just disappeared. It was terrifying. There was flesh flying, there were bodies flying."
He and other witnesses said grenades were thrown into the crowd from the windows of a nearby hotel.
At least 25 people were killed in the Khadamiya blast, but hospital officials said that a final death toll was not yet possible to establish because many of the bodies were in pieces. "I cannot count them," said a morgue attendant, Abdullah Hatam.
In the holy city of Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad, at least five powerful blasts struck in the middle of crowds of pilgrims who had packed the streets and shrines for the Ashoura ceremony, when Shiite Muslims commemorate the martyrdom in 680 A.D. of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
At the scene of one of the blasts in Karbala, a New York Times photographer, Joao Silva, saw at least four corpses being removed. Casualties were also loaded on to trucks and carted away from the area, which was near a mosque on a side street.
There was some damage to nearby buildings but no deep crater on the ground, like those left by the impact of car bombs. "People told us mortars had landed among a group of people walking to the shrine," Mr. Silva said.
At least 70 people were killed, Reuters quoted the police as saying.
In Khadamiya, among the body parts taken to the morgue were two severed heads, which in the past have been the emblem of a suicide bomber.
Corpses of women in black veils and the long robes worn by Shiites were laid out in the morgue. Outside, frantic Iraqis slapped their cheeks in grief and anger, searching the chaos for missing friends or relatives. American military helicopers circled overhead at the shrine and the hospital.
Iraqis waited for word of the dead, some doubled over in grief as it filtered out. "He's gone, he's dead," said one. Rough-hewn wood coffins were loaded onto pickup trucks.
At one point a hospital official emerged and read the names of the dead. "Adnan Khurdaya, Mohammad Hussein . . ."
Men wailed, flailing their fists in the air.
After the attack at the Khadamiya shrine, an angry crowd estimated in the thousands marched to a nearby American base where they started pelting soldiers and tanks with stones. A witness, Ali Heider, said the soldiers opened fire and he saw at least two Iraqis in the crowd shot.
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