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Shiite Pilgrims Attacked; Iraq Rejects Provincial Election Law


Another Shiite pilgrim has been killed in Iraq as millions of Shiites gathered for an annual religious commemoration. Also in Iraq, the presidential council has rejected a provincial election law that authorities hoped would encourage national reconciliation. Daniel Schearf reports from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

A roadside bomb Wednesday detonated near a bus carrying Iraqi Shiite pilgrims, killing one and wounding several more.

The bombing marked the latest attack on Shi'ites traveling for Arbaeen, a ritual mourning ceremony for the Prophet Mohammed's grandson Hussein, who was killed 13 centuries ago.

At least 64 Shi'ites have been killed and over 100 wounded in the past few days, most of them as they made their way on foot to the southern Iraqi city of Karbala.

The U.S. military has blamed Sunni-led al-Qaida in Iraq for the attacks, saying the terrorist group is looking to stoke sectarian violence.

The latest attack came as U.S. military spokesman Major General Kevin Bergner listed recent security gains in Iraq.

"From January 7 through February 22, coalition forces have conducted 40 battalion level operations, detained over 2,700 terrorists, and seized more than 1,400 caches of weapons and munitions," he said.

The U.S. military says attacks are down 60 percent across Iraq since a surge in U.S. troop levels last year. Some Shi'ite and Sunni militias, including former insurgents, declared cease-fires or started helping security forces.

But Iraq still suffers sporadic sectarian violence that threatens to increase distrust among religious and ethnic groups. And political reconciliation, which the Bush administration has been trying to encourage, has been slow.

On Wednesday Iraq's presidential council rejected a law setting up provincial elections.

The law was one of a series of measures the U.S. has been urging Iraq to take but it will now be sent back to Parliament for further discussion.

Speaking in Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the rejection shows democracy in action.

"We saw today that democracy is at work, and they are working through some of the politics there with one of the bills that passed last January," she said. "So we are hopeful, but we know that we have a lot more work to do."

The council approved two other laws seen as key to reconciliation among Iraq's ethnic and religious groups. One approved the federal budget and the other granted a limited amnesty.