BAGHDAD Ñ A leading Al Qaida-aligned insurgency leader has used
Iranian nationals to infiltrate Iraq's Shi'ite majority community.
Iraqi and U.S. officials said Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi, regarded as the
most lethal insurgent in Iraq, has succeeded in infiltrating agents into the
Shi'ite community in several major cities of the country. They said Al
Zarqawi has recruited Iranians to collect intelligence and transport suicide
bombers to Shi'ite civilian targets.
Officials said both the U.S. military and the Iraqi Governing Council
expected the attacks, which resulted in a delay of the signing of an interim
Iraqi constitution on Wednesday. They said suspected Al Zarqawi agents had
penetrated a three-ringed cordon established to protect Shi'ite sites. In
the outer ring were U.S. forces. The second cordon was composed of the Iraqi
Civil Defense Corps. Iraqi police were in the inner ring. The rings were
coordinated through a joint control center.
The suicide bombings were meant to have been part of a larger effort to
carry out strikes in other Shi'ite-populated cities in Iraq. In the southern
city of Basra, Iraqi police reported the arrest of four would-be suicide
bombers. In Najaf, police found and defused a bomb meant to have exploded on
Tuesday, Middle East Newsline reported.
Al Zarqawi, the officials said, has managed to collect information on a
range of Shi'ite targets where U.S. forces have not been deployed. They said
his agents have taken advantage of the uncoordinated security around Shi'ite
mosques and other shrines, regarded as high-value targets because of the
large number of people they attract. Al Zarqawi, the officials said, has
also taken advantage of the refusal by Shi'ite mosque guards to cooperate
with Sunni police deployed outside the houses of worship.
On Tuesday, in the bloodiest day in Iraq since the end of the U.S.-led
war against the Saddam Hussein regime, about 200 Shi'ites were killed in
suicide and other bombings in Baghdad and Karbala. The Shi'ites were marking
the 10-day Ashura mourning period for the death of Hussein, the grandson of
Mohammed, founder of Islam.
"We know they did this as part of an effort to provoke sectarian
violence among Muslims," Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul
Bremer said. "We know they chose this day so that they could kill as many
innocents as possible."
The attacks in Baghdad and Karbala were timed to be simultaneous,
officials said. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the
Kazimiya shrine, killing at least 58 and wounding more than 200.
A fourth suicide bomber whose vest did not explode was captured at the
scene. On Wednesday, officials said 15 suspects were arrested, including
at least four people who appear to be Iranian nationals.
In Karbala, about 90 kilometers south of Baghdad, two explosions rocked
pilgrim centers in the Shi'ite city. One blast took place along a road used
by Shi'ite pilgrims leading to a Shi'ite shrine. The head of the Iraqi
Governing Council, Mohammed Bahr Al Aloum, survived a mortar attack in the
"Certainly, one of the chief suspects in this would be Zarqawi, just by
the methods that have been used in the past, just by the techniques that
have been used in the past," U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy
operations director of U.S. forces in Iraq, said. "The explosions were
caused by three methods: a suicide bomber in the city center, explosives
along the road outside the city set off by remote-detonation devices, and
mortar rounds fired from near the city."
"The terrorists had this well planned out," Kimmitt said. "They had
obviously planned this for an extensive period of time. They wore clothing,
more than likely, which would hide the fact that they were wearing explosive
vest devices. They are very easy to hide devices, very, very difficult to
Al Zarqawi, officials said, intends to spark a Sunni-Shi'ite war in Iraq
as part of an effort to expand his organization and conduct operations
against U.S. and Israeli targets throughout the Middle East. So far, they
said, tensions have been simmering in the Shi'ite community, with some
elements blaming the U.S. military for failing to provide sufficient
security while others calling for revenge strikes against Sunnis.
"These acts are targeted against the Iraqi people and the political
process toward Iraq's independence and liberation," Iraqi Governing Council
member Ibrahim Jafari said. "At the same time, it's an attempt to sow
among the Sunnis and the Shi'ites and to make the Sunnis believe that their
enemies are the Shi'ites and to make the Shi'ites believe that their enemies
are the Sunnis."