Iraq: another Shi’ite mosque blown up; more Zarqawi vengeance?

The Iraqi “resistance” strikes another heroic blow…against Shi’ite civilians. From Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service:

A suspected shoe bomber targeting a Shi’ite imam who criticised Abu Musab al Zarqawi has blown himself up inside one of Baghdad’s most prominent Shi’ite mosques, killing at least 13 people and wounding nearly 30.

The blast hit the Buratha mosque in northern Baghdad during Friday prayers, the same mosque where up to 90 people were killed in a multiple suicide bombing on 7 April.

The mosque’s imam, Sheikh Jalaluddin al-Saghir, said he believed he was the target, but was unhurt.

The imam, a leading Shi’ite politician who often spoke out against al-Zarqawi, blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq for the attack, saying it was trying to reassert itself after the death of its leader in an air strike last week.

“Al-Qaeda is trying to restore some respect after the killing of the terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by targeting one of the leading Shi’ite clerics, but they will fail,” Sheikh al-Saghir said.

The attack was the biggest in Baghdad since a massive security operation came into force on Wednesday.

Sheikh al-Saghir, told the BBC the suicide attack appeared to have been carried out by a man who had explosives and ball bearings packed into his shoes to avoid detection in security checks.

He told AAP that “The guards discovered two pair of shoes, full of explosives that got them to start searching all the worshippers. When one of them tried to search the suicide bomber, he blew himself up.”

But the Interior Ministry said it was unclear, speculating the suicide bomber may have been carrying a vest because of the scale of destruction. Police Lieutenant Thaer Mahmoud also said the attacker was wearing a suicide vest.

Associated Press Television News footage showed a large scorch mark in the middle of the mosque. The turquoise and gold trimmed tiled walls and white ceiling were spattered with blood and the bomber had been dismembered and beheaded by the force of the blast.

The bombing was one of several attacks nationwide, despite the Iraqi government’s campaign to curb the violence with drastic security measures, including a four-hour driving ban on Fridays in Baghdad to prevent suicide car bombs during the main weekly religious service.

Iraqi authorities had also launched a massive ground operation which included 75,000 troops fanning out on the streets of Baghdad, an extended curfew, from 8.30pm until dawn, and a weapons ban.

Other attacks

Despite the security clampdown a mortar barrage also struck a commercial area north of Baghdad, killing at least two people and wounding 16, police said.

Gunmen in Basra killed a Sunni Arab cleric in a drive-by shooting in the formerly peaceful southern city, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki imposed a state of emergency just over two weeks ago.

The cleric, Youssif al-Hassan, who also was a leading representative of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars had welcomed the state of emergency. He and a bodyguard were killed near the Basra Grand Mosque where he preaches, police Captain Mushtaq Tali said.

US military operations

The US military also said American and Iraqi forces have killed 104 insurgents in 452 raids nationwide since the death of the terror leader.

A “high-ranking terrorist network commander” linked to the deaths of at least seven coalition soldiers in roadside bombs also as captured in Karbala, the US military said.

In another case of less-than-fortuitous timing, Bush’s surprise visit to Iraq two days ago (his second since the invasion) came just before the death of a Marine brought the US toll in the Iraq war to 2,500. And while nobody is keeping official count, according to some estimates, about 4,800 Iraqi police and security forces have died during the war, and at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. (AP, June 16)

See our last posts on Iraq, Zarqawi, and the ongoing sectarian cleansing.