Security stands by as Shiite Muslim pilgrims gather in the shrine city of Karbala on January 1, 2013
Security stands by as Shiite Muslim pilgrims gather during the Arbaeen religious festival in the shrine city of Karbala, southwest of Iraq's capital Baghdad, on January 1, 2013. 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. © Mohammed Sawaf - AFP/File
Security stands by as Shiite Muslim pilgrims gather in the shrine city of Karbala on January 1, 2013
AFP
Last updated: January 7, 2013

Al-Qaeda claims Iraqi New Year's Eve attacks

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.

"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.

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