- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 25, 2009

BAGHDAD | Two suicide bombers killed 60 people outside a heavily guarded Shi’ite shrine in Baghdad on Friday, prompting Iraq’s prime minister to order an investigation into security shortcomings that allowed the assailants to slip through.

Violence in Iraq has dropped to its lowest levels since the months following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, but an increase in suicide bombings and other devastating attacks in recent weeks has renewed concerns about the capabilities of Iraq’s security forces.

On Thursday, two suicide bombings in different parts of the country killed 88 people.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suspended the commanders who oversaw security in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Kazimiyah, where Friday’s attack took place.

The bombers detonated explosive belts within minutes of each other near separate gates of the tomb of the Shi’ite saint Imam Mousa al-Kazim, a police official said. Another official said the bombers struck shortly before the start of Friday prayers as worshippers streamed into the mosque — an important site for Shi’ite pilgrims.

Among the dead were 25 Iranian pilgrims, said a police official and an official at the nearby Kazimiyah Teaching Hospital. Both said at least 125 people, including 80 Iranian pilgrims, were injured in the blast.

All the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

In Iran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi condemned the attacks and said those behind them were trying to sabotage the growing ties between Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government and Shi’ite Iran, according to that country’s official Islamic Republic News Agency.

The U.S. military could not provide details on Friday’s bombings, saying the area around the shrine was patrolled by Iraqi security forces.

President Obama has announced plans to withdraw American combat troops from Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving 30,000 to 50,000 troops in training and advisory roles. Under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact, those remaining American troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2011.

The Baghdad shrine has been a favorite target of insurgents, most recently in early April when a bomb left in a plastic bag near the shrine killed seven people and wounded 23.

In January, a man dressed as a woman blew himself up near the shrine, killing more than three dozen people and wounding more than 70.

Imam Mousa al-Kazim is an 8th-century saint and one of 12 Shi’ite saints. Hundreds of thousands of Shi’ites march to the shrine in Kazimiyah every year to commemorate his death in 799.

Also Friday, the U.S. military said an American soldier died as a result of a noncombat-related incident in the northern Salahuddin province.

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