Home / News / International News / At least 50 die as Shia groups clash in Karbala

At least 50 die as Shia groups clash in Karbala

Image BAGHDAD — A power struggle between rival Shia groups erupted during a religious festival in Karbala on Tuesday, August 28, as gunmen with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades fought street battles amid crowds of pilgrims, killing at least 50 people and wounding 200, Iraqi officials said. 

(New York Times News Service)BAGHDAD — A power struggle between rival Shia groups erupted during a religious festival in Karbala on Tuesday, August 28, as gunmen with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades fought street battles amid crowds of pilgrims, killing at least 50 people and wounding 200, Iraqi officials said.{mxc}

Witnesses said members of the Mahdi Army, the militia of cleric Muqtada Al Sadr, traded fire with security forces loyal to Prime Minister Nouri Kamal Al Maliki’s government.

Amid hours of fighting, several vehicles and a hotel for pilgrims were set ablaze, and terrified pilgrims who had been praying at two shrines were trapped inside as clashes erupted nearby. Witnesses said buses that had been used to bring pilgrims to the city were bullet-shattered and bloodstained.

The government forces in Karbala and other towns in southern Iraq are dominated by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and its armed wing, the Badr organization. Many Badr fighters are veterans trained by Iran when they lived there as exiles under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Tensions between the Mahdi Army and the Badr group have been simmering for months. Both are vying for control of the overwhelmingly Shia regions of central and southern Iraq.

Two provincial governors belonging to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council were assassinated in southern Iraq this month, although the Sadrists deny involvement.

The showdown will prove embarrassing for Al Maliki if his security forces are unable to control the Mahdi Army and restore order in a holy city that lies in his own Shia heartland.

Security forces imposed an indefinite curfew on Karbala by nightfall Tuesday, fearing that the tensions could escalate as both sides vied for control of the streets. The violence appeared to spread to other cities.

In Baghdad, the police said five people were killed and 20 were wounded in clashes between militiamen in the Shia stronghold of Sadr City.

Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman in Baghdad, told Iraqi state television that reinforcements were being rushed to Karbala from Baghdad and surrounding provinces. The U.S. military did not intervene directly in the fighting, a spokeswoman said, though it sent jets to fly over Karbala as a "show of force" at the request of the Iraqi authorities.

Hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims had descended on Karbala in recent days to celebrate the birth of Mohammad Al Mahdi, the 9th-century saint and the last of 12 imams revered by Shias.

 

— 

About

Check Also

The Muslim World’s Contributions to Medical Science, Part II

Islam concerns itself deeply with the well being of believers, and the well being cannot …

Welcoming the Holy Months!

We are finally heading into the beautiful months of Rajab, Shaban and, soon inshAllah, Ramadan. …