Qaeda front group claims Iraq New Year's Eve attacks
BAGHDAD - Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq has claimed a wave of attacks across Iraq in the run-up to Shiite mourning rituals on New Year's Eve that killed 23 people, the SITE Monitoring Service said on Monday.
The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) also trumpeted its ability to launch the attacks despite heavy security put in place for Shiite pilgrims as they walked to the shrine city of Karbala for the annual rituals for a revered figure in Shiite Islam.
The December 31 attacks struck in more than a dozen towns and cities and also left 83 people wounded, officials said.
"In continuation of the series of waves launched by the War Ministry of the Islamic State of Iraq... Allah is pleased for the mujahedeen to direct a new wave of strikes against targets that were carefully selected," ISI said in statement posted on the Internet, according to a translation provided by SITE.
"Most of the groups were successful in reaching their targets, despite the security alert by the Safavid government and their gathering of forces in preparation for these operations, and in protection for the season of their polytheistic visits to the graves of those they worship in Karbala."
It was making a pejorative reference to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, implying that it was under the domination of formerly Safavid-ruled neighbouring Iran.
The attacks came in the lead-up to Arbaeen commemorations, which climaxed on Thursday when Shiites marked 40 days after the Ashura anniversary commemorating the slaying of Imam Hussein, one of Shiite Islam's most revered figures, by the armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD.
Sunni militants often use the rituals as an opportunity to increase attacks against Shiites.
Al-Qaeda's front group is widely seen as weaker than during the peak of Iraq's sectarian bloodshed from 2006 to 2008, but is still capable of carrying out mass-casualty attacks on a regular basis.