Suicide bomb attacks on Iraqi school, Shi'ite pilgrims, kill 29

Reuters

By Ziad al-Sinjary

MOSUL, Iraq, Oct 6 (Reuters) - A suicide bomber drove atruck packed with explosives into the playground of a primaryschool in northern Iraq and blew himself up, killing 14 childrenand their headmaster on Sunday, police and medical sources said.

Another suicide bomber attacked a group of Shi'ite pilgrimson their way to visit a shrine in Baghdad, killing at least 14people and wounding more than 30, some of them critically,police said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for eitherbombing, but the tactics used point to the Sunni Islamist alQaeda, which views Shi'ites as non-believers and has beenregaining momentum this year.

"Pools of blood, shoes and flesh are covering the ground,"said a policeman at the scene of the blast in Baghdad, whichcame on the anniversary of the death of a Shi'ite imam. Womenand children were among the victims, the policeman said.

More than 6,000 people have been killed across the countrythis year, according to monitoring group Iraq Body Count,reversing a decline in sectarian bloodshed that had reached aclimax in 2006-07.

The attack at the primary school followed a suicide bombingminutes earlier on a police station in the same town, Tel Afar,about 70 km (45 miles) northwest of Mosul city, where SunniIslamist and other insurgents have a foothold. There were nocasualties in the police station attack.

The majority of Tel Afar's residents are from Iraq's Shi'iteTurkman minority, which in recent years has been the target ofkillings and kidnappings.

"The fingerprints of al Qaeda are clear on both attacks,"said an official in the town who declined to be named.

Al Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate was forced underground in 2007after a joint offensive by U.S. troops and Sunni tribesmen.

But the group has re-emerged this year, invigorated bygrowing resentment towards Iraq's Shi'ite-led government, whichthe country's Sunni minority accuses of marginalising theirminority sect.

Sunnis launched street protests in December after Shi'itePrime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sought the arrest of a seniorSunni politician. A bloody raid by security forces on a protestcamp in April touched off a violent backlash by militants.

Relations between Islam's two main denominations have comeunder added strain from the conflict in Syria, which has drawnSunnis and Shi'ites from Iraq and the wider Middle East into asectarian proxy war.

Earlier this year, al Qaeda's Syrian and Iraqi wings mergedto form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which hasclaimed responsibility for attacks on both sides of the border.

At least 60 people were killed on Saturday in two suicidebombings, one of which targeted Shi'ite pilgrims on their way tovisit a shrine in Baghdad. Two Iraqi journalists were also shotdead by unidentified gunmen in central Mosul.

In a statement on Sunday, U.N. envoy to Iraq NickolayMladenov urged political, religious and civil leaders to workwith the security forces to halt the surge in bloodshed.

"It is their responsibility to ensure that pilgrims canpractice their religious duties, that school children can attendtheir classes, that journalists can exercise their professionalduties, and that ordinary citizens can live a normal life, in anenvironment free of fear and violence," he said.

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