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Violence precedes Shiite holy day in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Gunmen attacked a home northeast of Baghdad late Monday, wounding six, as the family was performing Shiite religious rituals, in violence ahead of this week’s major Shiite feast. At least 11 other people died in scattered shootings and bombings, police said.

Among the wounded in the attack in Abu Sidaa, about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, were three women and a 1-year-old boy, according to Dr. Ahmed Fouad of the hospital in nearby Baqouba.

Fouad said the family was performing Shiite rituals associated with Ashoura, the most important date in the Shiite calendar, which falls this year on Thursday. Shiites perform a number of rituals in the run-up to Ashoura, which commemorates the seventh-century death in battle of Imam Hussein, grandson of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Sunni extremists have targeted the past two Ashoura festivals. Eight suicide bombers killed 55 Shiites last year. In 2004, at least 181 people died in bombings at shrines in Baghdad and Karbala.

About 8,000 Iraqi security troops will be in Karbala for this week’s ceremonies, private vehicles will be banned in the city center, and food carts will be prohibited because they are often used as hiding places for bombs.

In Basra, police killed a man who fired on a group of Shiites performing Ashoura ceremonies and threw a hand grenade at police forces, said Capt. Mushtaq Khadim. Two civilians and two policemen were wounded in the clash.

Also Monday, several thousand people rallied in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, as part of ongoing protests against caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Meanwhile, police found the bodies of two Sunni Arab brothers seized from their Baghdad home late Sunday by men claiming to be Interior Ministry commandos, said Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq.

Sunni Arabs accuse Shiite-led security forces and militias of targeting their community. Over the weekend, Sunni politicians warned of civil war after the bullet-riddled bodies of 14 Sunni Arab men were found in Baghdad.


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