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Attacks Across Iraq Kill at Least 110 Shi'ite Pilgrims, 9 US, 4 Iraqi Troops

06 March 2007

Iraqi security officials say insurgent attacks on Shi'ite pilgrims Tuesday have killed at least 110 people and wounded many more. In the deadliest incident, police say two suicide bomb blasts targeting Shiite pilgrims in Hilla, south of Baghdad, killed about 90 people and wounded at least 160. Iraqi officials say an earlier attack on Shi'ite pilgrims walking to Karbala killed at least 28 people and wounded many more. Elsewhere in the country, insurgents killed nine American soldiers and four Iraqi troops. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from northern Iraq.

Thousands of Shi'ites are walking to Karbala for the Arbaeen religious holiday. Police reported several shooting and bomb attacks on the pilgrims - who are converging on the Shi'ite holy city to mark the end of an annual mourning period for the grandson of the Prophet Muhammed.

Such religious processions are frequent targets in Iraq's sectarian fighting.

North of Baghdad, in violent Diyala and Salah ad Din provinces, the U.S. military said four American troops were killed and four wounded in separate bomb attacks. In the capital, police said a bomb blast near a security checkpoint killed at least four Iraqi troops.

Iraqi and U.S. forces continue to report progress in the city's ongoing security crackdown. The U.S. military said American troops reported no hostile incidents and a friendly reception among locals in the first two days of operations in Baghdad's Sadr City.

Iraq's interior ministry reported officials have broken up a kidnap gang that posed as police officers in Baghdad. Interior ministry official Ahmad Taha told Iraqi television the gang had made vast sums of money through its extortion and kidnapping activities.

He says officials discovered the gang by working with the local residents and kidnap victims. He encouraged residents to inform on similar gangs by calling a police hotline.

Many Iraqis say they do not trust the local police because of allegations of abuse and accusations the forces are filled with members of sectarian militias.

On Sunday, U.S. and British troops raided the office of an Iraqi government intelligence agency and discovered about 30 prisoners - some of whom showed signs of torture. Iraq's prime minister condemned the raid on the offices, but did not mention the prisoners or the evidence of torture.

Shi'ite religious leaders Tuesday praised the upcoming talks in Baghdad that will include Iraq's neighbors as well as the five members of the U.N. Security Council.

Sadr al din al Kubanchi, an aide to Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric Ali al-Sistani, said the decision to hold the event in Baghdad is a sign of progress.

He says, Baghdad should be a gate for connecting these different countries and for shutting down the terrorists. The cleric also said he hoped the event would dampen, what he called, the frightening problems between the United States and Iran.

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