torched car 88.
(photo credit: )
A suicide car bomber attacked Iranian pilgrims as they got off tour buses at a Shi'ite Muslim shrine south of Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding 39.
The bomber struck about 7:15 a.m. Thursday in Kufa, a Shi'ite holy city 100 miles south of Baghdad, detonating a minivan loaded with explosives behind two buses unloading pilgrims, police said.
Eight of the dead and 22 of the injured were Iranians, said Dr. Munthir al-Athari of the provincial health department. Three of the dead Iranians were women, he said.
At least 19 other people were killed Thursday across Iraq, including 11 men whose bullet-riddled bodies were found in several locations across Baghdad, police said. Several showed signs of torture.
No group claimed responsibility for the Kufa blast, but suspicion fell on Sunni religious extremists and supporters of Saddam Hussein. Many Sunnis fear the rise of Iraq's Shiite majority will lead to greater influence by Shi'ite-dominated Iran, with which Iraq fought a bloody war in 1980-88.
"The purpose is clear - to stop pilgrimage. I suspect that the criminal Baathists are behind this act," the local provincial governor, Asaad Abu Kallal, said, referring to members of Saddam's ousted, Sunni-dominated party.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, denounced the attack as a "barbaric terrorist act" and urged the Iraqi government to find those responsible. He blamed US-led coalition forces, saying they failed to maintain security in Iraq, Iranian television reported.
The US Embassy condemned the bombing "in the strongest terms" and offered condolences to the victims' families.
"The perpetrators of this attack show no respect for Islam and the long tradition of pilgrimage to holy sites," the embassy said in a statement. "Such violence seeks to inflame religious sensibilities and sow discord among Iraq's people."
US officials have offered to discuss the situation in Iraq with Iranian authorities, but Teheran has refused.
Last month, the top US commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., said Iran had become the main source of materials to make makeshift roadside bombs - an allegation the Iranians deny.
The Kufa attack came a day after the US military predicted an increase in vehicle bombings now that Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, has succeeded the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as head of al-Qaida in Iraq.
Al-Masri is an explosives expert specializing in such attacks, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said. The US military has recorded at least 125 car bombings since al-Zarqawi was killed by a US airstrike.