Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reports: At least 27 killed, 100 wounded in Karbala festival violence; Curfew imposed; 1 million pilgrims ordered to leave

Above and Left: Scenes from Karbala today. Tensions have been rising for months between the two primary Shia militias known as the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army as each struggles for political dominance. The Badr Brigade is the paramilitary force of the largest Shia political bloc, the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq. The Mahdi Army is the paramilitary force of the Sadrists, headed by Moqtada al-Sadr. The Iraqi security forces are heavily infiltrated by both, with each having varying amounts of control in different areas. In Karbala, the security forces are primarily aligned to the Badr Brigade. The killing began yesterday when police fired on angry pilgrims, who came by the hundreds of thousands for the Shabaniyah festival, which marks the birth of Mohammed al-Mahdi, the twelfth and final Imam, known as the "Hidden Imam", who speaks today through the mujtahids, and who Shias believe will return at the end of time to bring justice to a fallen world.

Pilgrims flee Iraq city as gunbattles rage

Police ordered hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to leave the Iraqi city of Kerbala on Tuesday as a battle raged between Iraqi security forces and gunmen near two of Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines.

A senior security source in Baghdad said 25 people had been killed, mostly policemen. The director of Kerbala's al-Hussein Hospital said it had received eight bodies and 29 wounded.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier-General Abdul Kareem Khalaf told state television that reinforcements were being rushed to Kerbala from Baghdad and neighbouring provinces. He said 50 people had been killed and wounded in the violence.

The fighting appeared to be between gunmen loyal to the fiery Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, possibly members of his Mehdi Army militia, and police linked to the rival Shi'ite political movement, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) and its Badr Organisation.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

Iraq Orders 1 Million Pilgrims to Leave

Police ordered a curfew Tuesday in Shiite holy city of Karbala and told more than 1 million pilgrims to leave after two days of violence claimed at least 27 lives during a religious festival. More than 100 people were wounded.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, gave the toll of dead and wounded, and said the "entrances and exits to Karbala have been secured and more forces are on the way from other provinces."

Another official in the ministry accused the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr of attacking government security forces in the center of Karbala, site of two Shiite shrines under the control of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. Al-Sadr's forces are battling SIIC for power in regions south of Baghdad...

Gunshots rang out in the area near the Shiite shrines, which are the focal point of celebrations marking the birthday of the 12th and last Shiite imam, who disappeared in the 9th century. The festival was to have reached its high point Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

The 27 dead were killed in two outbursts of gunfire — one Monday night and a second about midday Tuesday. Police initially blamed Shiite pilgrims trying to push past frustratingly slow security checkpoints near the Imam al-Hussein mosque.

Read the rest at the Guardian

Clashes in Iraq's Kerbala kill 25 -security source

Twenty-five people were killed in fierce clashes between security forces and gunmen in the Iraqi city of Kerbala on Tuesday, a senior security source in Baghdad said.

He said many of the dead were police.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

35 pilgrims killed during Shia festival in Iraq

More than one million pilgrims were ordered to leave a city in Iraq on Tuesday, after two days of violence during a religious festival left at least 35 people dead and 180 injured, officials said...

A member of the city council, speaking anonymously for security reasons, said pilgrims were running wildly in all directions to escape gunfire. He said no one was sure who was shooting.

"We don't know what's going on," he said. "All we know is the huge numbers of pilgrims was too much for the checkpoints to handle and now there is shooting."

Police blamed the violence on Shia pilgrims pushing past frustratingly slow security checkpoints near the Imam al-Hussein mosque.

But an Interior Ministry official has accused radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia of attacking the government security forces in the city centre, causing the gunfire. Al-Sadr's forces are battling the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, which controls the city's Shia shrines, for power in the region...

"The situation is now under control, but what is worrying is that the pilgrims are in huge numbers.… The area where they were gathering has been evacuated in order to control those [gunmen]," he said.

Khalaf added the gunmen were gathering in three areas of the town and were being chased by security forces.

Read the rest at the CBC

Shiite cleric urges calm after pilgrims killed in Iraq

A leading Shiite cleric appealed for calm on Tuesday after five pilgrims were killed in clashes with police during celebrations for a revered imam in Iraq's central shrine city of Karbala.

"We call on all parties to go back to their places and not to shoot," Sheikh Abdul-Hadi al-Mahamadawi said in an address at the shrine of Imam Hussein in the heart of the holy city, flooded with pilgrims celebrating the birth anniversary of another revered imam...

"Everyone should comply with the orders of the leader Moqtada al-Sadr," Mahamadawi, a senior cleric in Sadr's office in Karbala, said through loudspeakers at the Hussein shrine.

"A Muslim should not kill another Muslim," he quoted Sadr, one of Iraq's most influential Shiite leaders, as saying.

Police expect around two million pilgrims to attend Tuesday's celebrations honouring Mohammed al-Mahdi, the 12th imam of Shiite Islam.

Read the rest at Yahoo News

Iraq govt says sending reinforcements to Kerbala

Iraq is sending security forces from other provinces to the holy Shi'ite city of Kerbala after deadly clashes erupted during a major religious festival on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry spokesman said.

Brigadier-General Abdul Kareem Khalaf said Interior Ministry airborne and ground troops from Baghdad were on their way to the southern city. In addition, security forces from nearby provinces had been sent.

"I expect that in the coming few hours, the security forces will be in control and will arrest all the criminals and bring them to justice," Khalaf said on Iraqiya state television.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

Pilgrims flee Iraq city

Hazem al-Araji, a senior aide to Sadr, told Reuters from Kerbala that the clashes erupted when police objected to pilgrims chanting pro-Sadr slogans and began beating them.

Another Sadr aide, Ammar al-Saidi, said the treatment of the pilgrims had enraged Sadrists in Kerbala and sparked revenge attacks on the security forces.

In a sign of how the violence could spread, police said Sadr supporters set fire to a SIIC office in the Shi'ite district of Kadhimiya in Baghdad.

In Kerbala, a Reuters witness saw gunmen roaming the streets armed with heavy machineguns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, batons and swords, beating pilgrims, including women.

U.S. jets were dispatched to fly over Kerbala as a "show of force" at the request of Iraqi authorities, but that was the only U.S. participation so far in the operation, said Major Alayne Conway, spokeswoman for U.S. forces south of Baghdad.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

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