- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a Shi’ite mosque packed with worshippers celebrating a major Muslim holiday yesterday, and a suicide driver blew up an ambulance at the wedding of a Shi’ite couple south of the capital. At least 21 persons died in the attacks and dozens were wounded — including the bride and groom.

The attacks came a day after Iraq’s most feared terrorist leader, Abu Musab Zarqawi, denounced Shi’ites in a recording that appeared aimed at sowing division ahead of the Jan. 30 elections. Shi’ites, long the oppressed majority in Iraq, are expected to take power in the balloting, which Sunni Muslim extremists have vowed to disrupt.

Also yesterday, a U.S. soldier died in an operation north of Baghdad, and an Italian soldier was killed by a burst of gunfire while patrolling in a helicopter near the southern city of Nasiriyah. Terrorists attacked several designated polling places outside Baghdad.

The car bombing at the al-Taf mosque in Baghdad occurred just as worshippers were leaving services marking one of Islam’s most important holidays, Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice. It was the second car bombing at a Shi’ite mosque in Baghdad this week.

An official at Yarmouk Hospital said 14 persons died and 40 were wounded in the blast, which set several cars on fire and scattered debris across the street.

Later in the day, a suicide driver rammed an ambulance into a crowd of Shi’ites celebrating a wedding near Youssifiyah, a village 12 miles south of the capital. Seven persons were killed and 16 wounded.

Differences between Shi’ites and Sunnis over the upcoming elections have widened the gap between the two religious communities, raising fears of even more turmoil in a nation racked by insurgency.

Iraqi Shi’ites strongly support the elections, believing they will propel them to a position of influence equal to their standing as the country’s majority group.

Iraq’s defense minister yesterday threatened to arrest prominent Shi’ite politician and onetime U.S. favorite Ahmed Chalabi on charges of defaming the Defense Ministry.

Legal proceedings against Mr. Chalabi are to begin after the Eid al-Adha holiday ends tomorrow, Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said.

“We will arrest him and turn him over to the Interpol,” Mr. Shaalan told Al Jazeera television. “We will arrest him based on facts. He wanted to tarnish the image of the Defense Ministry.”

Mr. Chalabi, who was abandoned by the Pentagon amid charges he had spied for Iran, recently made charges of corruption against the ministry.

Militants among the Sunni Arab minority have vowed to disrupt the Jan. 30 vote, the first in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was ousted in April 2003. Some Sunni clerics and politicians have called for a boycott.

In other developments yesterday, U.S. troops killed three terrorists who attacked a police vehicle near the northern city of Mosul, a military spokesman said.

Iraqi terrorists who have threatened to kill eight Chinese hostages told the Chinese government they would treat them “mercifully” if Beijing banned all Chinese nationals from Iraq, Reuters news agency reported.

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