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14 Iraq border policemen killed at fake checkpoint – Iraq marks Shiite ritual as unrest surges

Imam-Musa-Al-KadhimFALLUJAH, Iraq: Militants set up a fake checkpoint in western Iraq and ambushed a convoy of 14 border policemen yesterday, killing all of them and setting fire to the bodies of two of them, officials said. The checkpoint was set up along the main highway connecting Iraq to Saudi Arabia, with the attack taking place near the town of Nukhaib. At about 11:00 am (0800 GMT), the men were travelling along the highway in three unmarked cars to begin their shifts at various checkpoints, Major General Yasir Assem from the border guards said.

They were stopped at the fake checkpoint and gunned down, and two of their bodies set on fire. A medic at the clinic in Nukhaib, about 200 km west of the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, confirmed the toll. Nukhaib is in Anbar province, but is part of a tract of land claimed by neighbouring Karbala province. It was the site of a brutal attack in Sept 2011 that sent tensions soaring between the two provinces. Militants killed 22 Shiite pilgrims from Karbala aboard a bus bound for Syria. Anbar province has long been a stronghold of Sunni militants, including those linked to Al-Qaeda. Many tribal militias turned against Al-Qaeda and joined forces with the US military from late-2006, but they have failed to completely eliminate such attacks, which often target the security forces in a bid to undermine confidence in the authorities.

Violence has been on the rise in recent months, with the number of people killed in May the highest since 2008. However, overall deaths remain far below levels registered during the brutal 2006- 2007 sectarian war. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Shiite pilgrims thronged a shrine in Baghdad yesterday for a ritual mourning ceremony amid a surge in violence that has sparked fears of another full-blown sectarian war. Security forces effectively shut down much of the Iraqi capital, severely limiting road traffic in a bid to avert car bomb attacks after nationwide violence rose last month to its highest level since 2008. Pilgrims from across the country descended on the shrine, dedicated to a revered Shiite Muslim figure, for the two-day rituals, which culminated yesterday in the northern neighbourhood of Kadhimiyah. Mourners carried to the shrine a symbolic coffin draped in green cloth inscribed with Quranic passages, marking the 799 AD death of Imam Musa Kadhim, the seventh of 12 revered imams. Organisers said several million pilgrims visited the shrine over the course of the past week, but the figure could not be independently verified.

The ceremonies come amid a surge in attacks, coupled with numerous unresolved political disputes and months-long anti-government protests in mainly Sunni Arab areas of Iraq’s north and west. That has prompted fears the country could return to the sort of brutal conflict that plagued it in 2006 and 2007. Shiite pilgrims are often targeted by Sunni militants who regard them as apostates, and in past years, multiple attacks have been carried out during the Imam Kadhim commemorations. Last year, two car bombs targeting pilgrims just after the rituals killed 32 people. “The terrorists will not scare us,” said Khaled Naama, a 35-yearold day labourer from the southern city of Samawa. “We will never stop, even if you continue your explosions and your murders, because this is the path to paradise.” Another mourner, Hmoud Jassim, 41, said the number of pilgrims represented “a challenge to terrorism”.

“I hope that the entire Islamic world, and all the terrorists, see that all these people are coming as a challenge to terrorists, to visit Imam Kadhim’s shrine and to mark this painful event,” said Jassim, an official in the stateowned South Oil Company Interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said no violent incidents had been recorded, while AFP journalists reported tight security on the ground. Officials and analysts point to a raft of political disputes as the underlying factor behind the latest violence. In a bid to ease tensions, political leaders held a symbolic meeting at the weekend, but no tangible agreements were announced. In particular, analysts say government policies that have disenfranchised Sunnis have given militant groups both fuel and room to manoeuvre among the disillusioned minority that dominated every Iraqi regime before the USled invasion of 2003. —AFP

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This article was published on 06/06/2013