Leaders urge calm after suicide bomber kills 47 at Shiite funeral
MOSUL, Iraq, March 11 (AFP) - 15h29 - Iraq’s religious leaders called for calm on Friday amid fears of revenge attacks one day after a suicide bomber killed 47 Iraqis and wounded more than 80 in a packed Shiite funeral tent in Mosul.
Grieving families cancelled a planned public funeral procession for the victims in the northern city after a mortar shell early on Friday slammed into the site of the carnage 24 hours earlier.
Sunni Muslim leaders, fearful of reprisals, urged calm in the city, Iraq’s third largest and one of its most ethnically and religiously diverse.
"It was terrorist attack meant to spark civil war but I think the Sunnis and Shiites will not succumb," said Nureddine Hayali, a spokesman for the Islamic Party.
Iraq’s Shiite clerics urged cool heads after the latest calamity.
The office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual guide for Iraq’s Shiites, said the revered cleric was calling for "unity and solidarity among all Iraqis despite the attacks targeting the innocent."
Sistani has consistently denounced vigilante justice against Iraq’s Sunnis, perceived as fuelling the insurgency, whom the 15-million strong Shiite majority blames for many attacks carried out against it.
In some sections of Baghdad, Shiite individuals and militias have started taking action against suspected insurgents, ranging from making arrests to killing individuals, although the incidents are still isolated.
Shiite clerics urged the incoming Iraqi government to do more to protect the Shiites.
"Those innocents (who were killed) committed no wrongdoing other than being Shiites. The government should find a solution for that problem and we are stretching hands of help," said Sheikh Sadreddin Kubanji during a prayer sermon in Najaf.
The bomber struck on Thursday as mourners gathered next to the Sadreen mosque, where a service was being held for Hisham al-Araji, the Mosul representative for radical Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr.
Shiite cleric Sayed Jassem Mohamed recalled the moment when the explosion shredded a jammed funeral tent at 5:20 pm (1420 GMT).
"A ball of fire shot out, followed by falling debris, and panic swept the outdoor tent next to the Sadreen mosque," Jassem said.
"Volunteers started to put out the flames while others evacuated the dead and the wounded from the middle of the tent, which was destroyed by the blast."
Rescuers had to walk through puddles of blood and human remains.
Doctors put the dead at 47 and the wounded at 81.
Mosul residents expressed their anger.
"Who pretends this is holy war. The authors of this cowardly attack are looking to destroy Iraq and push it into the abyss," said Jalal Qassem, a doctor.
Sunni Muslim Arabs, perceived as the elite under Saddam Hussein’s regime, make up about half of Mosul’s 1.5 million population, while the rest are divided among Kurds, Turkmen, Shiites, Christians and other groups.
The city is a stronghold of Islamic militant fighters and former regime loyalists. It has been gripped by violence since November when rebels launched an offensive and police abandoned their posts.
The government claimed on Thursday that it has killed or captured 18 of the top lieutenants of Al-Qaeda’s Iraq frontman, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, except for his man in Mosul, Abu Talha.
Zarqawi, Iraq’s most wanted fugitive, with a 25 million dollar bounty on his head, has branded Shiites as "Jews and traitors" and vowed to target them.
The latest blow for Iraq’s majority Shiites came as their political alliance, which swept the elections, was putting the final touches on a deal with the Kurds to form a coalition ahead of the new parliament’s first session next Wednesday.
Both communities were poised for a taste of real power after being oppressed for decades under Saddam. The two sides have drafted a three-page principle of understanding that will formalise their alliance, the Shiite side said.
The TAL, which enshrines federalism and limits the role of religion, will be used to run the country and serve as a building block for a permanent constitution that is to be written and put to a national referendum in October.
Both sides were in accord that Jaafari would be prime minister and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani would be president.
Kurds had insisted on a written agreement, particularly about the disputed city of Kirkuk, fearful that the Shiites, who had initially opposed the TAL’s granting Kurds’ greater autonomy, would try to roll back their hard-won freedoms.
"It is important the understanding between the two sides is clear and transparent. For the Kurdish people there have been a lot of problems in the past. Politics cannot just be built on trust," said senior KDP official Dilshad Miran.
In other developments, a mortar attack killed an Iraqi soldier and another was wounded in an attack north of Baghdad near Dhuliyah, an army source said.
In the same area, the body of a businessman working with the Americans was found riddled with bullets, police said.
Police in the southern city of Nassiriyah announced the arrest of a suspect in the January killing of Baghdad governor Ali Al-Haidari.