BAGHDAD, Iraq – Assailants struck Shiite worshippers in three Iraqi cities Tuesday, killing at least 39 people in bombings and ambushes during the climax of ceremonies marking Ashoura, the holiest day in the Shiite calendar. In apparent retaliation, mortar shells slammed into predominantly Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad hours later, killing at
least five people and wounding 20, officials said.
Tens of thousands of Shiites Muslims converged on the holy city of Karbala “” where the 7th-century battle took place that cemented the schism between Sunnis and Shiites “” beating their chest and heads to mark the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. The entire city was sealed off, all vehicles were banned, and pilgrims were searched at numerous checkpoints, a day after the Iraqi army said it had foiled a plot by a messianic Shiite group to storm the nearby city of Najaf.
The bloodiest attack Tuesday occurred when a suicide bomber blew himself up among a crowd of worshippers entering a Shiite mosque, killing 19 people and wounding 54 in Mandali, a predominantly Shiite city northeast of Baghdad and near the Iranian
To the north, a bomb in a garbage can exploded as scores of Shiites “” most them Kurds “” were performing rituals in Khanaqin, a majority Kurdish city also near the Iranian border. At least 13 people were killed and 39 were wounded, police Maj. Idriss Mohammed said.
“I was participating in Ashoura ceremonies with my son and all of a sudden the bloodshed hit,” Abdul Jasim Hassan said, holding his 11-year-old son, Hussein, whose right leg was bleeding.
Nawal Hasson said she pleaded with her husband not to go to the ceremonies but went with him when he refused to stay home.
“I had a feeling that something might happen, because terrorists are always targeting Shiites,” she said.
The two bombings occurred on the edge of Diyala province, not far from Baqouba, where fighting has raged for weeks between Sunni insurgents, Shiite militiamen and U.S.-Iraqi troops.
Last year’s Ashoura commemorations were largely peaceful, but suicide bombers killed 55 Shiites in 2005 and twin blasts killed at least 181 people in 2004.