KARBALA, Iraq — Offering figures much higher than the U.S. estimate, the president of Iraq’s Governing Council said Wednesday that the casualty toll in bombings of Shiite Muslim shrines in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala was 271 dead and 393 injured.
U.S. officials put the combined death toll from the near-simultaneous bombings at the capital’s Kazimiya shrine and holy sites in Karbala at 117, down from the 143 that they reported Tuesday. It was impossible to reconcile the discrepancy immediately.
Officials said Wednesday that 15 people, some of them possibly Iranians, were detained in the attacks, while thousands of Shiite Muslims marched past shrines and chanted slogans against the United States and terrorists in a funeral procession for victims.
Wednesday, three rockets hit a telephone exchange building in Baghdad, knocking out international phone service for much of the country only days after the system was put back in service. An Iraqi worker was killed and another was injured, Iraqi officials said.
Restoring telephones knocked out during the U.S. invasion last year has been a priority in U.S. efforts to bring back normalcy for Iraqis, who complain of shortages of electricity and other services, along with the sense of insecurity as insurgents wage their campaign of attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqis.
Thousands chant against U.S., terrorists
The U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said Wednesday that it was “increasingly apparent” that a large part of the terrorism comes from outside Iraq. He promised to increase controls of Iraq’s borders.
“Tuesday showed us the dark vision of the evil-doers,” Bremer said in a brief statement. “They fight to ward off harmony and are happy to pave the road to power with the corpses of innocent victims. The terrorists are dead set against the vision of a democratic Iraq.”
Video: U.S.: Al-Qaida links? The bombings Tuesday hit pilgrims who had gathered in the tens of thousands to mark Ashoura, the holiest day of the Shiite calendar.
As authorities slowly identified the dead Wednesday morning, relatives picked up their slain loved ones from Al-Hussein hospital in Karbala. Others wept as they scanned handwritten lists of names posted on the hospital walls. Iranian pilgrims, speaking in Farsi, struggled to communicate with the Iraqi hospital officials.
Several thousand joined a funeral procession in the afternoon, taking three bodies to the tombs of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas for blessings before heading to bury then at the cemetery in this city 50 miles south of Baghdad.
“No, no, Americans! No, no Israel! No, no, terrorists!” they chanted, carrying red, black and green flags, symbols of martyrdom traditional for Ashoura ceremonies.
Many Iraqis, including Shiites, have also blamed foreigners — throwing suspicion on al-Qaida. Al-Qaida issued a statement denying involvement in the most recent attacks.
U.S. and Iraqi officials pointed to an al-Qaida-linked Jordanian militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi , as a “prime suspect” in the attacks, saying he aimed to spark a Shiite-Sunni civil war in Iraq. Iraqi leaders have worried about Shiite revenge attacks against Sunnis and have pleaded with the public to maintain unity.
But the focus of Shiite anger has been directed more at the U.S.-led occupation. Some, including the top Shiite cleric, accused U.S. officials of not doing enough to protect the 10-day Ashoura ceremonies; others simply vented resentment over the country’s continuing insecurity.
Other bombs found, defused
It appeared that other attacks had been planned Tuesday.
In the southern city of Basra, police found a car packed with 550 pounds of explosives with a remote control detonator at a gas station that an Ashoura procession was due to pass, Police Chief Mohammed al-Ali said Wednesday. The explosives were defused, and several people were arrested, one of whom was released.
Two women were also found apparently planning to set explosives in Shiite mosques, the police chief of Basra’s Maqal district said. One was arrested, but the other escaped, perhaps with the explosives, said Brig. Gen. Noori Jaafar al-Fayadh.
In Kirkuk, police found and defused a 22-pound bomb alongside a road where Shiites had planned to march Tuesday, said Anwar Amin, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps chief in the city.
In Najaf, police arrested two people who were carrying explosives near the Imam Ali shrine, police Col. Saeed al-Joubri said Wednesday.
Japan's Foreign Ministry urged Japanese nationals Wednesday to leave Iraq, warning that “the possibility that Japanese nationals and facilities could also be targeted can’t be ruled out” amid the rash of suicide bombing across Iraq this year. About 230 Japanese troops are based near the southern town of Samawah, and more are due to arrive.
Horrific scenes of death, suffering
The scenes Tuesday were horrific after the multiple blasts at the golden-domed shrines in Baghdad and Karbala. Some of the explosions came from suicide attackers, while others were caused by explosives apparently brought in on wooden pushcarts. Torn bodies littered the streets amid pools of blood. Screaming and weeping pilgrims fled or hauled away the dead and dying on carts.
A firm number of the dead was difficult to reach, particularly in Karbala — in part because some victims were taken elsewhere, said the city’s hospital director, Hassan Nasrallah.
Karbala Health Department Director Salih al-Hasnawi said 98 people were confirmed dead, but he predicted that the figure would likely rise because there were 12 bags of human remains. He also said a quarter of the 230 wounded were in severe condition.
“Some died post-operation. Some will not survive,” al-Hasnawi said.
Outside Kazimiya, the main Shiite holy site in Baghdad, mourners searched Wednesday through lists of the dead. Others carried the dead in wooden boxes, one draped with the flag of Iraq, another with the Islamic green flag of martyrdom.
Iranians believed among 15 detained
A coalition official said on condition of anonymity that 15 people were detained in Karbala after the blasts, nine of whom were in Iraqi custody. The others, held by coalition forces, included four Farsi speakers thought to be Iranians, the official said. An estimated 100,000 Iranians were believed to have come to Iraq for Ashoura.
Tuesday morning’s dramatic attacks forced the delay of a key milestone in the U.S. handover schedule: the planned signing of an interim constitution Thursday. Bremer said the signing would be postponed as the Governing Council declared a three-day mourning period.
U.S. and Iraqi officials, meanwhile, tried to get a clearer picture of how the well-organized, near-simultaneous attacks were carried out.
Two or three suicide bombers detonated the explosives strapped to their bodies at Kazimiya, the coalition official said. Earlier reports that a fourth bomber was captured turned out to be incorrect, the official said.
In Karbala, there was apparently one suicide bomber and several sets of explosives brought to the site on wooden carts, which are frequently used to take supplies to pilgrims or ferry the elderly between holy sites, the official said.
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