Iraq's al Qaeda claims attacks on Shi'ite pilgrims

BAGHDAD Sat Jun 16, 2012 5:11am EDT

A burnt vehicle is removed from the site of a bomb attack, which killed Shi'ite pilgrims who were making their way to a religious festival, in Baghdad June 13, 2012. REUTERS/Saad Shalash

A burnt vehicle is removed from the site of a bomb attack, which killed Shi'ite pilgrims who were making their way to a religious festival, in Baghdad June 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Saad Shalash

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's Iraq affiliate has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attacks on Shi'ite pilgrims across Iraq that killed more than 70 people in the country's worst day of violence this year, a group that monitors insurgent communications said.

The U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which follows jihadist websites, said on Saturday that Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq wing (ISI) claimed it carried out the bombings in Baghdad and other cities, targeting mainly Shi'ite pilgrims.

SITE said a statement issued on jihadist forums on June 15 said the ISI called the attacks the "blessed Wednesday invasion" and a "serious blow" to the enemy's security.

Iraq's al-Qaeda affiliate was weakened by its long war with U.S. and Iraqi security forces, but since the last American troops left in December, the group and Sunni Islamist insurgents have carried out a major attack about once a month this year.

Thousands of Shi'ite pilgrims had gathered this week in Baghdad to mark the anniversary of the death of imam Moussa al-Kadhim, a great-grandson of Prophet Mohammad.

Al Qaeda in Iraq often hits Shi'ite targets in an attempt to stir up the kind of sectarian violence that drove Iraq to the edge of civil war and killed tens of thousands of people in 2006-2007. They also target security forces to try to show the Shi'ite-led government is failing to stamp out violence.

Earlier this month, ISI claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on a major Shi'ite religious office in Baghdad, which killed 26 people, wounded 190 and evoked memories of the darker days of the country's conflict.

Political tensions are already high as the Shi'ite, Sunni Muslim and ethnic Kurdish parties that make up the government feud over how to share power and Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki fends off attempts at a vote of no confidence.

(Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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