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Attack in Baghdad Targets Shi'ite Pilgrims


Iraqi officials say bomb blasts in Baghdad have killed more than 40 people, many of them Shi'ite pilgrims returning from a ceremony in the holy city of Karbala. Barry Newhouse reports from the Iraqi capital that the number of Shi'ites who participated in the annual pilgrimage is the highest in several years, and so is the death toll.

Iraqi officials say a suicide car bomber rammed into a truck carrying about 70 Shi'ite pilgrims who were returning from Karbala in central Baghdad. Elsewhere in the city, a suicide bomber targeted a minibus near the Shi'ite-majority Sadr City quarter.

More than 200 Shi'ites have been killed in attacks during this year's Arbaaen pilgrimage. U.S. and Iraqi officials have said the large numbers of pilgrims, some reports indicate four million, made providing security difficult.

But some Shi'ites have criticized Iraqi government security, and said it was safer in previous years, when members of the Shi'ite Mahdi Army militia protected the pilgrims from attacks.

U.S. Brigadier General David Pittard says the decision to use Iraqi forces, instead of permitting Mahdi Army members to patrol the route, was made by Iraqi officials.

"That was a call by the Iraqi government," said General Pittard. "And in some ways - we have seen it in other countries, where you can have an auxiliary to your security forces as a possible solution. That is something for the Iraqi government to wrestle with, because, if you are not careful, you may see abuses of that."

Religious militias, including the Mahdi Army, have been blamed for much of Baghdad's brutal sectarian violence.

Iraqi officials and representatives from neighboring countries and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council met Saturday in Baghdad and agreed that stabilizing Iraq is in the interest of all nations to prevent a broader regional war.

The United States has accused Iran of allowing foreign fighters and weapons that fuel the insurgency into Iraq. Iran says U.S. forces contribute to Iraq's cycle of violence.

Speaking on U.S. television station NBC's Meet the Press program, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said, although most Iraqis ultimately want American forces to leave the country, U.S. troops are now a source of stability in Iraq.

"There is no question that there are people here in Iraq, who have a negative evaluation of our performance so far," said Zalmay Khalilzad. "And we do admit that we have made mistakes, but I believe that the majority of the leaders of Iraq, the political blocs, would like the Americans to stay at the present time."

President Bush on Saturday proposed sending an additional 4,000 troops to Iraq, on top of the 21,500 he ordered in January. The forces would include additional combat support troops, military police and provincial reconstruction teams.

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