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Mosque bomb kills 14 ahead of election
Updated: 2005-01-22 00:10

BAGHDAD - A suicide car bomber killed 14 Shi'ite worshippers as they left a Baghdad mosque on Friday, a Muslim holy day, ratcheting up tension between's Iraq's religious communities just nine days before landmark elections.

U.S. soldiers survey the wreckage of a destroyed vehicle outside al-Aqsa Martyrs Mosque after it came under attack by a suicide car bomber in Baghdad, January 21, 2005. [Reuters]
In a sign of the insurgents' confidence, a group beheaded an Iraqi soldier in broad daylight in the restive rebel town of Ramadi. They left the body, still dressed in army fatigues, in the street with the severed head placed on the torso and a note warning other Iraqi troops to quit.

The bomb, which exploded at a small green-domed mosque in western Baghdad as the faithful finished praying, wounded 40 people including children, doctors said. The emergency room of a nearby hospital was filled with bloodied bodies.


Islamist militants have stepped up violence ahead of Iraq's first multi-party election in nearly half a century, scheduled for Jan. 30. They have also targeted the mosques of rival Muslims in what officials say is a bid to plunge Iraq into a sectarian civil war.

The Baghdad mosque bombing, timed to coincide with the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, is the latest in a string of attacks targeting leaders, mosques and parties representing Shi'ites, who make up 60 percent of Iraq's population.

Shi'ites are expected to finish on top in the election to the 275-seat national assembly after decades of oppression during Saddam's Sunni-dominant rule.

Several Sunni Arab parties say they will boycott the poll because it is not safe for supporters to vote in Sunni areas.

In the last month, a dozen people died in a car bomb outside the offices of a leading Shi'ite political party and two people considered close to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's foremost Shi'ite cleric, have also been killed.

Sistani has overseen the formation of a Shi'ite-led alliance to contest the poll and has ordered his followers to vote.

Leaders of both communities have urged Iraqis to oppose militants such as Jordan's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.


Zarqawi, who is allied to al Qaeda and active in Iraq, told Washington in an audio tape posted on the Internet on Thursday that the war would drag on for "months and years," and he dismissed Sistani as an "imam of atheism."

His group has claimed responsibility for many of the most deadly attacks in Iraq over the past year, including the beheading of several foreign hostages.

Iraq's Justice Minister Malek Dohan al-Hasan said his own Shi'ite community should allow the Sunni minority a share in Iraq's leadership after next Sunday's vote.

"I ask the Shi'ites to look around them. You are in an Arab Sunni region. Who will come to your aide if you monopolize power?," he told Reuters in an interview.

In southern Iraq, an Italian soldier was killed when the helicopter he was traveling in was hit by ground fire near Nassiriya, an Italian defense official said.

Italy has around 3,200 soldiers based in Iraq, the largest contingent after the United States and Britain. The death was the first among Italian troops since May last year.

Many Iraqis are likely to regard the election as a distraction from the problems they face on a daily basis.

Most of Baghdad has been without water this week, the electricity supply is sporadic and, despite Iraq's oil riches, people are forced to queue for hours for fuel.

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