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Suicide car bomber kills five in attack on Shiite pilgrims

Friday, April 1, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A suicide car bomber blew himself up Thursday near an Islamic shrine, killing five Iraqis in the latest attack on Shiite Muslim pilgrims marking a major religious holiday.

The blast in Tuz Khormato, 55 miles south of Kirkuk, killed three civilians, including a child, and two soldiers helping guard the shrine, police reported. Sixteen people were wounded, hospital officials said.

Fighters from the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency staged a string of attacks on Shiite pilgrims in the days leading up to the festival, which marks the end of a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and one of Shiites' most important saints.

The day's biggest gathering was in the holy city of Karbala, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visited two shrines, marched in honor of Hussein and beat their chests with their fists in a sign of mourning.

Seeking to head off attacks, police in Karbala closed streets to vehicles, set up checkpoints and frisked people for weapons. No major incidents were reported.

Late Wednesday, gunmen ambushed a truck carrying pilgrims near Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad, and killed one person, and an attack earlier in the day killed a pilgrim in southern Iraq. On Monday, two attacks on pilgrims left four dead, including two police officers.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, meanwhile, said his country's troops will leave Iraq by year's end. Ukraine had already said it would begin pulling out its 1,650 soldiers, the fifth-largest contingent in the U.S.-led coalition, but had not set a timetable for completing the withdrawal.

Italy also moved closer to pulling out some troops. Premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to reduce the troops contingent at the end of September by about 300 soldiers. The move would trim around 10 percent of Italy's contingent of 3,300.

A number of nations have already pulled out of Iraq, pressured by criticism of the mission at home and threats from militant groups in Iraq, which have kidnapped and even beheaded some foreigners.

In Romania, which has 800 soldiers in Iraq, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu refused Thursday to say whether he would consider withdrawing his country's troops after kidnappers released a video showing three Romanian journalists who were abducted in Baghdad.

The video, aired Wednesday by Al-Jazeera satellite television, showed the three Romanian journalists and a fourth unidentified person -- possibly an American -- with guns pointed at them. But Tariceanu said no demands had been made.

The kidnap victims drew support from hundreds of journalists and supporters Wednesday who marched in three Romanian cities, calling for a safe return.

In Washington, a presidential commission issued a report saying U.S. spy agencies were "dead wrong" in most of their judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 war.

Monqedh Fathi Abdel Razzaq, an engineer who was an Iraqi army officer in Saddam Hussein's ousted regime, welcomed the report, but said that "the war has already taken place, and what happened, happened."

"America is a superpower and all, but at the end of the day it's not God," he said. "It makes mistakes."

The Pentagon revealed that U.S. forces in Iraq have been holding a top aide to terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Matthew Waxman, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, said the suspect was captured in Iraq late in 2004. He described the man as an emissary to insurgent groups in several cities in Iraq. The al-Qaida-allied al-Zarqawi is the most-wanted man in Iraq and is blamed for numerous bombings.

The continuing violence in Iraq led interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to extend a state of emergency until the end of April. First announced nearly five months ago, the order affects all of Iraq except Kurdish-run areas in the north.

The emergency decree includes a nighttime curfew and gives the government extra powers to make arrests without warrants and launch police and military operations when it deems necessary.

Allawi's announcement came as a suicide bomber exploded his car next to a U.S. military Humvee in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding more than a dozen, hospital officials said. There were no U.S. casualties, the U.S. military said.

Also in Samarra, assailants fired at a police station with rocket-propelled grenades and guns, police official Qasim Muhamed said. No casualties were reported.

A roadside bomb in the southern city of Basra injured six policemen on patrol and one bystander, police Lt. Col. Karim Al-Zubaidi said.

The U.S. military reported three U.S. soldiers killed in separate clashes, bringing the number of American military deaths in March to 33 -- the lowest monthly death toll since 20 were killed in February 2004.

One soldier was killed in action Thursday near Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad. No other details were released.

Another soldier died from wounds suffered Wednesday in the northern city of Mosul. The soldier was among six U.S. personnel injured when they tried to check a taxi, Lt. Col. Andre Lance said. The cab's passengers opened fire, and the soldiers shot back, killing the assailants and causing the taxi to explode. Officials believe the vehicle was carrying explosives.

A third soldier was killed Wednesday when his patrol came under fire in Baghdad, the military said. The gunmen disappeared into a nearby crowd, but five suspects were later detained.

The names of the soldiers were not released.


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