7 pupils killed as schools in Iraq are targeted
SEVEN children died and 30 were wounded in Iraq yesterday when one school came under mortar fire and another was hit by a suicide bomb blast.
Mortar shells rained down on the playground of a girls’ secondary school in a mostly Sunni area of western Baghdad during breaktime, killing five pupils and wounding 20.
And there were reports that two primary children were killed at a school in Ramadi, north-west of Baghdad, when a suicide bomber attacked a military base. Ten pupils were hurt and three guards killed.
Elsewhere, US and Iraqi forces killed 250 gunmen from an apocalyptic Muslim cult in a battle near the Shiite holy city of Najaf yesterday. A US helicopter was said to have been shot down. It also emerged that the mayor of Baqouba and 1,500 policemen in Diyala province have been sacked in a bid to end the raging violence in the region northeast of Baghdad.
The mortar attack occurred at about 11am at the Kholoud Secondary School in the Adil neighbourhood of western Baghdad.
A Sunni group accused Shiite militias and said markings on the mortars indicated they were manufactured in Iran.
One pupil, Ban Ismet, 15, who was hospitalised with leg injuries, said: “I saw my friend Maha. There was blood all over her face… she was dead.”
In Najaf, officials said the joint US-Iraqi operation which killed 250 militants was launched after reports insurgents planned to assassinate Shiite clerics and pilgrims during the Ashura festival, which reaches its climax today.
An Iraqi army source said some of the dead wore headbands declaring themselves to be a “Soldier of Heaven”.
The fighting began as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims converged on the other main Shiite holy city of Kerbala, 40 miles to the north of Najaf.
Shiite security sources said the gunmen were both Sunni Arabs and Shiites loyal to Ahmed Hassani al-Yemeni. He is described apocalyptic cult leader convinced he leads the vanguard of the Mahdi – a messiah-like figure in Islam whose coming heralds the start of perfect world justice.
Governor Asaad Abu Gilel said authorities had uncovered a plot by the gunmen to kill some powerful clerics today.
In Diyala province, police chief Ghanim al Qureyshi said the 1,500 officers were sacked because the force had fled rather than fight when Baqouba was attacked by insurgents in November.
He added that he was determined to create a police force free of corruption.
Al Queyshi took over police operations in the violent province after his predecessor was sacked last month over suspicions he was collaborating with Sunni insurgent fighters.
Meanwhile, two car bombs exploded within a half-hour of each other in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing a total of 11 people and wounding 34.
A high-ranking Shiite official at the Iraqi industry and mines ministry, along with his 27-year-old daughter and two other people, was shot dead in a drive-by shooting.
• Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, arrived in Baghdad yesterday for an unannounced visit.
He is due to meet the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al Maliki, president Jalal Talabani and other officials. “I’m here to discuss progress we have made, challenges we face and what we need to do in the crucial months ahead,” Mr Browne said.