BAGHDAD – Hundreds of Shiite mourners turned out Monday for funerals a day after a homicide car bomber rammed a flatbed truck packed with pilgrims returning from weekend rites in Karbala, killing 32 people.
Mourners marched alongside 10 caskets placed on top of minivans, beating their chests and shouting, 'There is no God but Allah,' as they moved along the road. One man sat atop one of the minivans, his head lowered, holding the photo of one of the dead.
Attacks have killed hundreds of Shiite pilgrims in the past week as they traveled to and from Karbala, where they commemorated the 7th century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.
Sunday's suicide bomb attack displayed the limitations of the U.S.-led crackdown seeking to restore order in the capital, where bombers still strike with deadly efficiency against mostly Shiite targets in an apparent bid to ignite an full-scale civil war.
The men and boys were celebrating their good fortune when one noticed a car racing far too fast, coming toward them from behind. The bomber barreled into their flatbed truck, setting off an explosion that killed at least 32 and wounded at least 24.
One of the pilgrims, Mustafa Moussawi, accused officials of not providing enough security.
"I blame the government," he said. "They didn't provide a safe route for us even though they knew we were targets for attack."
To combat the bombers, U.S. troops plan to move into communities on the edge of Baghdad and target hideouts where insurgents rig car bombs, the chief U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William C. Caldwell said Monday.
"We have found two or three already and have destroyed (them) in the last weeks, but we anticipate that that's probably where there are some more and that's where the greater presence of these forces will go to," Caldwell said.
In the past two years, the Shiite militia Mahdi Army provided security for the pilgrimage — marking the end of 40 days mourning 7th century death of Imam Hussein, whom Shiites consider the rightful heir of Islam's leadership, cementing their rift with Sunni Muslims.
This year, however, the Mahdi militiamen has been sent to the wings under a deal between its leader, radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the government to ease the way for the Baghdad security sweeps.
The pact apparently has led to a decrease in execution-style slayings blamed on Shiite death squads. It also made the pilgrims easier prey.
Also Monday, a roadside bomb blasted an Agriculture Ministry convoy in southeastern Baghdad, killing three security guards and wounding another, officials said.
The blast targeting the Ministry employees occurred in the Zayouna area of the city. Agriculture Minister Yarrub Nazim was not in the convoy.
On Sunday evening, two mortar shells exploded on a soccer field in Iskandariyah, 30 miles southeast of Baghdad, police said. A 3-year-old boy and a 4-year-old boy were killed; two other children were injured.
A joint Iraqi-U.S. patrol was targeted by two roadside bombs detonated about 50 yards apart in western Baghdad Monday afternoon, wounding two civilians, police said. It was not clear if any soldiers were injured.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military reported three soldiers killed Sunday. One was killed by a roadside bomb southwest of the capital, while another died in combat and the third was killed in an unspecified "non-combat incident" in northern Iraq, the military said.
In the Salahuddin province northwest of Baghdad, Iraqi-led forces backed by U.S. warplanes staged raids against suspected insurgent training bases, including sites linked to anti-aircraft batteries, the U.S. military said. At least seven suspected insurgents were reported killed.