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VOICE OF AMERICA
SLUG: 2-313709 Iraq Blast (L-UPD)
DATE:>
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=3/2/04

TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT

TITLE= IRAQ/BLASTS (L-UPD)

NUMBER=2-313709

BYLINE= LAURIE KASSMAN

DATELINE=BAGHDAD

CONTENT=

///// UPDATES INTRO OF CR2-313702. NOT REVOICED. PLS. UPDATE CASUALTY FIGURES IN AS NEEDED. /////

INTRO: Multiple explosions tore through crowds of Shi'ite worshipers outside two major shrines in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala. Reports indicate more than 120 people were killed and dozens more injured during the last day of the Shiite Muslim observance of Ashura. Correspondent Laurie Kassman has more from Baghdad.

TEXT: /// SOUND OF SIRENS AND LOUDSPEAKERS ///

Ambulances rushed to the shrine in Baghdad as religious clerics called for calm over loudspeakers and appealed for blood donations for the injured.

/// ARABIC w/SOBBING AND FADE ///

Thirty-eight-year-old Saad al-Kabi, still shaking from the shock, says he was walking toward the mosque to pray just before 10:00 in the morning when an explosion ripped through a crowd of women in front of the shrine. It was so awful, he says, body parts and blood were everywhere.

Four explosions rocked the major Shi'ite shrine in Baghdad as pilgrims gathered to celebrate the last day of the Shura holiday.

/// CHANTING AND FADE ///

As relief workers and volunteers evacuated the injured in Baghdad, groups of worshippers began marching in the street in front of the shrine chanting, "We are not afraid of death".

At least five bombs ripped through crowds of worships outside the holy Shi'ite shrine in Karbala about 100-kilometers south of the Iraqi capital.

Some enraged survivors blamed foreign militants for the attacks. Others threatened revenge against Sunni Iraqis.

Some worshippers, still in a state of shock after the explosion voiced concerns it would fuel sectarian tensions. Angry mobs briefly lobbed stones at U-S soldiers and Iraqi police who rushed to the scene.

A U-S military spokesman has condemned the attacks in Baghdad and Karbala and says the blasts may have been caused by both mortar attacks and suicide bombings. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Last month, U-S forces said they had intercepted a message by an al-Qaida terrorist urging suicide bombings against Shi'ite Iraqis to provoke civil war.

This was the first time in three decades that Shi'ite Iraqis could openly celebrate the Shura holiday, one of the most important religious periods in Shi'ite Islam. Saddam Hussein had banned Shi'ite Muslims from public displays of worship.

Thousands of Iranian Shi'ite pilgrims had also flocked to the shrines to commemorate the death of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, who was slain in battle not far from Karbala 13-hundred years ago.

/// REST OPT///

After years of persecution under Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Shi'ite leaders have demanded guarantees for their religious rights in any future government. Some clerics have called for Islamic law to be implemented.

The Iraqi Governing Council this week approved an interim constitution that makes Islam one source, but not the sole source of legislation, with a bill of rights safeguarding the basic rights of all Iraqis. (SIGNED)

NEB/LMK/MAR/RAE



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