At least 52 are dead following a March 17 bomb blast near the shrine of Imam Hussein, a pilgrimage center for Shi’ites in Karbala. Most reports identified a female suicide bomber as the perpetrator, but the Karbala police chief said it had been a bomb planted in a crowded area. About 75 were injured in the blast, the worst attack on Shi’ite civilians since the Ashura holy period.
The attack overshadowed a trip to Iraq by US Vice President Dick Cheney, who had this to say: “As President Bush has said, the war on terror is an ideological struggle and as long as this part of the world remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.” (BBC, March 18)
Meanwhile, influential Shiite and Sunni groups boycotted a conference on Iraqi reconciliation. Members of the main Sunni Arab parliament coalition, Tawafiq, refused to attend the two-day meeting because of complaints about the Shi’ite-dominated government. Shi’ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc walked out of the conference, as did a contingent led by Sheik Ali Hatem Sulaiman, a representative of Sunni tribes that rose up against the al-Qaeda in Iraq. (LAT, March 19)