- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

2:52 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Two suicide bombers blew themselves up today in a crowded outdoor market in a Shi’ite city south of Baghdad, killing 45 persons and wounding 150, police said, the latest in a series of insurgent attacks against the majority sect during the Islamic holy month of Muharram.

The attackers strolled into the Maktabat outdoor market in the center of Hillah about 6 p.m. as shoppers were buying food for their evening meals. Police said they thought one of the men appeared suspicious and stopped him.

The bomber detonated his explosives; then the second attacker, who was walking behind the first, set off his, police said.

Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, was the scene of one of the deadliest attacks in the war, when a suicide car bomber killed 125 persons on Feb. 28, 2005.

Today’s blast capped a day in which at least 17 others were killed in bombings and mortar attacks against Shi’ite and Sunni targets in Baghdad as U.S. and Iraqi forces prepare for a security sweep to pacify the capital.

The unrelenting sectarian violence has taken on added significance this week as Shi’ites marked their holiest day on Tuesday — Ashoura — the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic lunar calendar, when they mourn the death in A.D. 680 of the prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein. He was killed in Karbala as part of a power struggle that produced the split between Shi’ites and Sunni Muslims.

A Foreign Ministry official said the government has invited neighboring countries, including U.S. rivals Iran and Syria, to a meeting on security next month in Baghdad. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to disclose the information, did not give a specific date but said it was planned for March and would be the 10th held by Iraq’s neighbors but the first in the Iraqi capital. The last such meeting was held in July in Iran.

A Foreign Ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information, said invitations to the meeting in March have been issued to Jordan, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Syria, as well as Egypt, Bahrain, the Arab League, Organization of Islamic Conference and the United Nations.

The comments on the regional talks came a day after officials said Iraq has indefinitely halted all flights to and from Syria and closed a border crossing with Iran as the government prepares for a new U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown in the capital and surrounding regions.

In other violence today, a car bomb exploded at a bus stop near a busy shopping area around Rusafi Square on Rashid Street in central Baghdad, killing six persons and wounding 12, police said.

A bomb ripped the roof off a minibus in the predominantly Shi’ite neighborhood of Karradah, another popular capital shopping area, killing six persons and wounding eight, police said.

A U.S. soldier also died today of wounds sustained in fighting two days ago in Anbar province, an insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, the military said.

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