Thursday, December 24, 2009

BAGHDAD | Bombs targeted Iraqi Christians and Shi’ite Muslims on Wednesday, killing at least seven people and wounding about three dozen before coinciding religious observances that will take place under heavy guard.

Insurgents have routinely targeted Shi’ites and Christians in an attempt to undermine the country’s security gains and its Shi’ite-dominated government. Security forces in recent days have been concerned that the Shi’ite holy observances known as Ashura and the Christmas gatherings would be targeted by large-scale attacks.

Ashura marks the seventh-century death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein.

In the first of Wednesday’s attacks, a bomb targeted a historic church in the northern city of Mosul a day before Christmas Eve services, killing two people and wounding five.

“Instead of performing Christmas Mass in this church, we will be busy removing rubble and debris,” Hazim Ragheed, a priest at the church, said in a telephone interview.

The bomb was hidden under sacks of baking flour in a handcart left 15 yards from the Mar Toma Church, or the Church of St. Thomas, a police officer said.

The officer said that the two men killed were Muslims and that five other people were injured. The blast damaged the wooden doors, windows, some furniture and one of the walls of the church, which is more than 1,200 years old, Mr. Ragheed said.

Iraqi defense officials warned earlier in the week that intelligence reports pointed to attacks during Christmas, leading the government to step up security near churches and Christian neighborhoods.

Later Wednesday, a blast struck a group of Shi’ite pilgrims preparing for Ashura in Baghdad. The bomb, hidden in a bag, killed four pilgrims and wounded 31 others in eastern Baghdad, a police officer said. Among the wounded were women and children, he said.

A second blast struck Shi’ite worshippers gathering in central Baghdad. The bomb, hidden behind a tent erected to provide food and water to pilgrims, killed one pilgrim and wounded four others, said another police official.

Insurgents have routinely targeted pilgrims on their way to the southern holy city of Karbala during Ashura.

Elsewhere, gunmen stormed a checkpoint Wednesday in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, killing four Iraqi police officers, two police officials said.

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