15 detained over Iraq attacks
Staff and agencies
Wednesday March 3, 2004
Iraqi police and US troops detained 15 people in connection with yesterday's devastating suicide attacks against Shia pilgrims in Baghdad and Kerbala, a coalition official said today.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that 15 people were detained in Kerbala after the blasts, nine of them in Iraqi custody. The others, being held by coalition forces, included four Farsi speakers thought to be Iranians.
The development came as the Iraqi governing council declared a three-day mourning period and huge crowds gathered in Kerbala for the first funerals of victims.
An estimated 100,000 Iranians travelled to Iraq for the Ashura celebrations that were targeted in yesterday's bombings, and many are thought to have been among the dead and injured.
It also emerged today that further attacks may have been planned as part of yesterday's orchestrated day of bloodshed. Iraqi officials said suspected suicide bombers were arrested in Basra and in Kirkuk, while police found a bomb with 10kg of TNT alongside a road where Shias had planned to march.
Anwar Amin, the Iraqi civil defence corps chief in Kirkuk, said police defused the bomb and the march was cancelled.
Meanwhile, as the clear-up operation continued, authorities gave varying estimates of the death toll.
The American count of the dead was revised down, from 143 to 117, a senior coalition official said today. But Iraq's health ministry said 185 people were killed, and some unofficial Iraqi death totals were as high as 230. Estimates of the wounded ranged from 300 to more than 400.
US officials and Iraqi leaders named a Jordanian militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as a "prime suspect" for the attacks, saying he is seeking to spark a Sunni-Shia civil war in Iraq to wreck US plans to hand over power to the Iraqis on June 30.
Iranian vice-president, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, blamed al-Qaida for the attacks in Iraq and Pakistan. He wrote in a message posted on his personal website that al-Qaida considers Shias more dangerous than their political enemy - the United States.
"The reactionary al-Qaida terror group reached a conclusion ... that they have two enemies: the United States as the political enemy and Shias as the ideological enemy," Mr Abtahi wrote.
Iraq's US-appointed governing council pleaded with Iraqis to remain united - an attempt to avert reprisals. In a sign of unity, Shia, Sunni and Kurdish council representatives appeared before journalists hours after the attacks urging Iraqis to "maintain unity" to "cheat our enemies of the chance to inflict evil on the nation."
However, the attacks forced the delay of a key event on the road toward the US handover of power to the Iraqis on June 30 - the planned signing tomorrow of an interim constitution agreed by council members this week.
Iraq's US administrator Paul Bremer said the signing would be delayed due to the three-day mourning period.
Also today, it was announced that US soldiers arrested two Iraqis wanted for attacks against coalition forces. Major Bryan Luke, of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, said troops conducted separate raids late yesterday in Tikrit and nearby Uja, both former strongholds of Saddam Hussein and his family. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1160958,00.html
Perhaps we get more info on the Farsi-speaking killers soon.