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Almost 120 Killed in Attacks on Shi'ite Pilgrims in Iraq

Iraqi officials say more than 120 Shi'ite pilgrims were killed in Karbala Tuesday. As VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from northern Iraq, the violence gripping the country also claimed a number of lives in Baghdad, and North of the capital, in Diyala and Salah ad Din provinces.

Thousands of Shi'ites are walking to Karbala for the Arbaeen religious holiday. Police reported several shooting and bomb attacks on the pilgrims, who are converging on the Shi'ite holy city to mark the end of an annual mourning period for the grandson of the Prophet Muhammed.

Such religious processions are frequent targets in Iraq's sectarian fighting.

Iraqi and U.S. forces continue to report progress in the city's ongoing security crackdown. The U.S. military said American troops reported no hostile incidents and a friendly reception among locals in the first two days of operations in Baghdad's Sadr City.

Iraq's interior ministry reported officials have broken up a kidnap gang that posed as police officers in Baghdad. Interior ministry official Ahmad Taha told Iraqi television the gang had made vast sums of money through its extortion and kidnapping activities.

He says officials discovered the gang by working with the local residents and kidnap victims. He encouraged residents to inform on similar gangs by calling a police hotline.

Many Iraqis say they do not trust the local police, because of allegations of abuse and accusations the forces are filled with members of sectarian militias.

On Sunday, U.S. and British troops raided the office of an Iraqi government intelligence agency and discovered about 30 prisoners, some of whom showed signs of torture. Iraq's prime minister condemned the raid on the offices, but did not mention the prisoners or the evidence of torture.

Shi'ite religious leaders Tuesday praised the upcoming talks in Baghdad that will include Iraq's neighbors as well as the five members of the U.N. Security Council.

Sadr al din al Kubanchi, an aide to Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric Ali al-Sistani, said the decision to hold the event in Baghdad is a sign of progress.

He says Baghdad should be a gate for connecting these different countries and for shutting down the terrorists. The cleric also said he hoped the event would dampen, what he called, the frightening problems between the United States and Iran.