- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

BAGHDAD

A woman hiding among Iranian pilgrims with a bomb strapped under her black robe killed more than three dozen people Sunday outside a Baghdad mosque during ceremonies commemorating the death of one of Shi’ite Islam’s most revered saints.

The suicide attack, the most recent in a series that has killed more than 60 people in less than a week, was the latest to mar the transfer of many security responsibilities from the U.S. military to Iraqi forces.

Iraqi security forces have deployed thousands of troops in Baghdad and in the Shi’ite city of Karbala, just south of the capital, to safeguard against attacks during the ceremonies.

Attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq and Sunni insurgents have killed hundreds of people in recent years.

The attack in Baghdad’s northern Shi’ite neighborhood of Kazimiyah comes two days after a suicide bomber slipped into a luncheon at a tribal leader’s home south of Baghdad and killed at least 23 people. More than a dozen other people have died in other attacks since New Year’s Day.

The Iraqi military held parades to mark the anniversary of its founding 88 years ago and to celebrate a security agreement with the United States that went into effect Jan. 1. The agreement replaced a U.N. mandate that allowed the United States and other foreign troops to operate in Iraq.

Under the new agreement, U.S. troops in Iraq will no longer conduct unilateral operations and will act only in concert with Iraqi forces. They must also leave major Iraqi cities by June and withdraw all troops by the end of 2011.

In another sign of the transition in authority, the U.S. military on Sunday handed over to the Iraqi government control in Diyala province of about 9,000 Sons of Iraq, a predominantly Sunni group of former insurgents and tribesmen whose revolt against al Qaeda in Iraq gave a significant boost to security in the turbulent province and helped turn the tide in the war against the terrorist group.

The United States paid the group’s estimated 90,000 members countrywide about $300 a month. Eventually, the members are to be either integrated into the Iraqi military and police, or provided civilian jobs and vocational training.

Under the phased handover, which began last year in Baghdad, Iraqi authorities will continue that pay and education strategy.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told Iraqi army troops during a parade marking Army Day that “the Iraqi army has gained the trust of government and Iraqi people as the army of all Iraqis.”

Just as the parade took place around noon, hundreds of worshippers had gathered in Kazimiyah just a few miles to the north, home to the shrine of Imam Mousa al-Kazim, one of the holiest men in Shi’ite Islam.

The woman was among a group of Iranian pilgrims, and she blew herself up just outside the gates of the mosque, a large building graced by four minarets. The office of Iraqi army spokesman Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi confirmed a woman wearing an explosives vest was responsible.

Officials reported a death toll of 36 to 38. At least one report from the Health Ministry said the dead included 17 Iranian pilgrims, seven of whom were women. There were also seven Iraqi women killed by the blast, which sent shrapnel hurtling across the crowded square.

Thousands of pilgrims from predominantly Shi’ite Iran visit during Ashura, celebrated Wednesday this year. The evening before the explosion, thousands of men marched through the streets of Kazimiyah rhythmically beating their chests with bare hands and slashing their shoulders with iron chains, part of ceremonies leading up to the anniversary of the seventh-century death of prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein.

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