BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Suicide bombers carried out
simultaneous attacks on Shiite Muslim shrines in Iraq yesterday,
detonating multiple explosions that ripped through crowds of
pilgrims. At least 143 people were killed and 430 wounded —
the bloodiest day since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Unofficial casualty reports, however, put the toll in Baghdad
and Karbala as high as 223.

U.S. officials and Iraqi leaders named an al-Qaida-linked
militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as a “prime suspect”
for the attacks, saying he seeks to spark a Sunni-Shiite civil war
to wreck U.S. plans to hand over power to the Iraqis on June

But some Shiites lashed out at U.S. forces. Iraq’s most
powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Hussein al-Sistani,
blamed the Americans for not providing security on the holiest day
of the Shiite calendar.

The blasts fanned fear and anger at a time when leaders of the
Shiite majority are pressing for more power in a future government
after years of oppression under Saddam. The attacks forced the
delay of a milestone in the path toward the U.S. handover —
the planned signing tomorrow of an interim constitution approved by
the U.S.-appointed Governing Council.

“What we’ve seen today in these attacks are
desperation moves by al Qaeda-affiliated groups that recognize the
threat that a successful transition in Iraq represents,” Vice
President Dick Cheney told CNN.

The devastating explosions came on the climactic day of the
10-day Shiite mourning festival Ashoura, commemorating the
7th-century martyrdom of the prophet Muhammad’s grandson

The bombings also happened about two hours before an attack on a
Shiites in Quetta, Pakistan, that killed at least 42 people —
including two attackers — and wounded more than 160.

Tens of thousands of pilgrims from Iraq, Iran and other Shiite
communities were massed around the golden-domed Imam Hussein mosque
in the holy city of Karbala and the Kazimiya shrine in Baghdad when
the explosions went off about 10 a.m.

In Karbala, women tripped over their long, black robes as they
ran. Police wept at the sight of the mangled and torn bodies of
pilgrims, their blood pooling in the streets.

“I was walking away from the tea stand, when I heard
someone shouting ‘Allahu Akbar.’ I turned my head and
saw a tall, bearded man,” said Ali Haidar. “A split
second later, he exploded, his clothes flying upward. The sound was
deafening. Bodies, feet, arms were everywhere. Pieces of flesh flew
at me.”

In Baghdad, wooden carts for ferrying elderly pilgrims were used
instead as impromptu gurneys, stacked with the wounded and dead.
Torn bodies were sprawled across the mosaic-walled courtyard inside
the Kazimiya shrine, and thousands of shoes — left at the
shrine’s doorstep as the faithful prayed inside — were
blown across the square.

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