Fearing Attack, Iraq Funeral Nixed

Relatives search through dozens of bodies in the hope of finding their loved ones at the morgue of the main hospital in Mosul, Iraq, March 11, 2005, after a suicide bomber blew himself up during a funeral being held in the courtyard of a Shiite mosque and killed 47 people and injured over 100, in the northern town.
AP
Officials and families canceled plans for a mass funeral procession for the dozens of people killed a day earlier in a suicide bombing because of fears it would be attacked.

Instead, angry, weeping relatives buried dozens of people at separate funerals in this northern Iraqi city.

The bloodshed came as Shiite and Kurdish politicians in Baghdad said they overcame a major stumbling block to forming a new coalition government.

Hundreds of men, women and children crowded the main hospital in Mosul, trying to find and identify the 47 dead and more than 100 wounded in Thursday's blast at a funeral tent jammed with Shiite mourners.

"I cannot describe the amount of despair I feel," said Sher Qassim Mohammed Ali. "I lost seven of my sons, brothers and cousins. I want to know who carried out this attack ... we will avenge those who did it."

With a dozen bodies covered in blankets laying in the cold outside a morgue that had no space to put them, others screamed "This is a crime! This is a crime!" One man said: "May God avenge them."

In other developments:

  • A boy no older than 11 was among the children held by the U.S. army at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, the former U.S. commander of the facility told a general investigating abuses at the prison. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski did not say what happened to the boy or why he was imprisoned, according to a transcript of her interview with Maj. Gen. George Fay that was released by the American Civil Liberties Union. The transcript of the May 2004 interview was among hundreds of pages of documents about Iraq prisoner abuses the group made public Thursday after getting them under the Freedom of Information Act.

  • Italian news reports point to U.S. communication flaws in the shooting of Italian security agent Nicola Calipari while his vehicle transported freed journalist hostage Giuliana Sgrena.

  • Some on Capitol Hill are complaining about an investigation that found there was no single explanation for the mistreatment of Iraqi, Afghan and other U.S. military prisoners. The report by Vice Admiral Albert Church found that blame for wartime prisoner abuse lay mostly with low and mid-level soldiers. But that's not satisfying some senators who believe Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should be held to account. And they say no senior officials in the Defense Department can be held accountable while the investigation is being conducted from within the Pentagon's own chain of command.

    Shiite mosques and funerals have become a frequent target of Sunni-led insurgents. Last month, suicide bombers attacked a number of them during the Shiite commemoration of Ashoura, killing nearly 100 people.

    Mosul has been a hotbed of guerrilla activity, and the scene of many bombings, drive-by shootings and assassinations targeting the country's security services, majority Shiites and people thought to be working with U.S.-led forces.

    Family members and politicians agreed there would be no joint funeral in Mosul on Saturday because of the "fear of another attack like this one," said Hamid Zain al-Ali, a member of the Al-Sadr Movement of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militants rose up against U.S. troops several times in 2004.

    Instead, families will hold private funerals across the city, and the Al-Sadr Movement would provide armed guards for each of the tents that would be used.

    A similar decision was taken on March 1 in Hillah, south of Baghdad, when fears that insurgents would target crowds of Shiite mourners forced authorities to cancel an elaborate funeral procession for some of the 125 people killed in a suicide bombing there.

    Al-Ali said that after the decision was taken, a mortar round landed near the site where a suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday.

    That explosion, in a working class neighborhood of this northern city, destroyed a large tent on a grassy patch in the courtyard of a mosque. Survivors scrambled to get the wounded to a hospital, lugging them to ambulances and cars in blankets or prayer rugs as a strong smell of gunpowder filled the yard.

    "As we were inside the mosque, we saw a ball of fire and heard a huge explosion," said Tahir Abdullah Sultan, 45. "After that blood and pieces of flesh were scattered around the place."

    At first, some mourners thought it was an air strike — but once they smelled the gunpowder, they said they knew it was a suicide bombing.

    Blood was spattered across the grass, car windows were shattered and survivors wailed as corpses were loaded onto the backs of pickup trucks. Others simply folded newspapers over the faces of the dead. The body parts that were strewn around the area were believed to be of the bomber.

    The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two major parties in the Kurdish coalition, said the attack "targeted the new Iraq and it was an attempt to thwart the democratic process."

    In central Baghdad, a car loaded with gunmen opened fire at a main hotel housing foreigners and one bystander driving a car was killed in an exchange of gunfire with guards. Another driver in a car with three children was seriously injured.

    Officials said the deal between the Shiite clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish parties opens the way for naming a Cabinet when Iraq's democratically elected National Assembly convenes Wednesday.

    The Kurds agreed to support the alliance's candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. In exchange, the alliance will back PUK leader Jalal Talabani as Iraq's first-ever Kurdish president. The Kurds will receive one major Cabinet post — one fewer than they demanded.

    On the thorny issue of territory, officials in both political camps said the deal provides for the eventual return of 100,000 Kurdish refugees to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, southwest of Mosul.

    The government will discuss returning the refugees and redrawing existing Kurdish autonomous regions to include the city, according to the deal. While in power, Saddam Hussein relocated Iraqi Arabs to the region in a bid to secure the oil fields there and brutally expelled the Kurds. Many of the Kurds who want to return to Kirkuk are now living in tent cities.