JULY 7, 2016
The New York Times
The New York Times
BAGHDAD — Militants fired mortars on a Shiite shrine north of Baghdad late on Thursday, and in the confusion that followed, three suicide bombers in military uniforms infiltrated the compound and blew themselves up, the Iraqi authorities said.
At least 36 people were killed and more than 40 were wounded.
The attack occurred just days after a minivan packed with explosivesdetonated in central Baghdad, killing at least 250 people and wounding nearly 200.
Thursday’s attack occurred in Balad, about 55 miles from Baghdad, at the mausoleum of Sayyid Muhammad bin Ali al-Hadi, a son of the 10th imam, who is revered among Shiites. Crowds of pilgrims had gathered there to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which ends the holy month of Ramadan.
Two of the bombers detonated their explosives near the gate of the mausoleum, and a third rushed deeper into the shrine and threw hand grenades at pilgrims, the authorities said.
At least 20 militants then overwhelmed the police and militia guards and seized control of the compound for about a half-hour before reinforcements arrived from the federal and local police and members of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an irregular unit. Those forces then clashed with the militants outside the shrine, killing at least seven.
It was unclear early Friday who was behind the attack, and no claim of responsibility had been confirmed.
Gen. Imad al-Zihiri, the commander of security operations in the nearby city of Samarra, said that “a security breach took place in Balad targeting the mausoleum of Sayyid Muhammad bin Ali al-Hadi, but our forces managed to recontrol the situation.”
Dhamin al-Jibouri, the police commander of Salahuddin Province, where Balad is, said the bombers wore “military uniforms to disguise.” He added, “We don’t know yet what happened to the rest of the militants, but we are controlling the area again.”
The mausoleum was not believed to be seriously damaged, authorities said, though the third bomber came within several feet of the tomb of the imam. Outside, however, the bombs ignited fires in a marketplace.
The weekend attack was the deadliest in Baghdad since at least 2009 and was among the worst in Iraq since the American invasion of 2003. The Islamic State took responsibility for that bombing, in the Karada district, which was teeming with revelers celebrating Ramadan, including many families with children.
The Islamic State claimed that the bombing had killed a gathering of Shiite Muslims. But Karada is a mixed area where Iraqis of all identities gather, and many Sunnis were also killed.
Assaults against Shiites by Sunni extremists make it difficult for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite, to achieve meaningful progress in reconciling Iraq’s majority Shiites with Sunnis, even as his armed forces have won victories against the Islamic State on the battlefield.
After the attack on the mausoleum, Moktada al-Sadr, a powerful Shiite cleric, ordered his “peace brigades” to Balad to “protect innocents’ lives.”
“This is another terrorist brutal attack against our” holy places, he said in a statement.
In 2006, the bombing of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra, where Imam Ali al-Hadi and Imam Hassan al-Askari, the father and brother of Sayyid Muhammad bin Ali al-Hadi, are said to be buried, touched off years of sectarian bloodshed.