Iraq violence kills 73 including pilgrims, journalists

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BAGHDAD: Violence including an attack on Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad killed at least 73 people across Iraq on Saturday, among them two journalists gunned down in the north, officials said.

Violence is at a level unseen since 2008, and there are persistent fears that Iraq will relapse into the kind of intense Sunni-Shiite bloodshed that peaked in 2006-2007 and killed tens of thousands of people.

Accounts differed as to whether the attack on the pilgrims in the Adhamiyah area of north Baghdad, which killed at least 49 people and wounded at least 75, was a bomb followed by a suicide bombing, or a suicide attack alone.

It came as pilgrims walked to a shrine to commemorate the death of Imam Mohammed al-Jawad, the ninth Shiite imam.

Iraq is home to some of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam, and millions of pilgrims visit them each year.

But crowds of pilgrims are frequently targeted by Sunni militants including those linked to Al-Qaeda, who consider Shiites to be apostates.

Earlier on Saturday, gunmen killed two Iraqi journalists in the northern city of Mosul.

The Sharqiya television channel said two of its journalists — correspondent Mohammed Karim al-Badrani and cameraman Mohammed Ghanem — were “assassinated” in Mosul.

Police and a doctor confirmed the two journalists had been shot dead.

Their reports on security forces and officials in Mosul had brought death threats from militant groups opposed to the government, a Sharqiya journalist told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Iraq has come in for repeated criticism over shortcomings in media freedoms.

“Many Iraqi journalists are routinely exposed to threats, murder attempts, attacks, difficulties obtaining permission, denial of access, confiscation of equipment and so on,” media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said this year.

Journalists, even with government authorisation, are routinely barred from approaching the sites of attacks and prevented from otherwise freely reporting in Baghdad.

Photographic and video equipment is also often viewed with suspicion by security forces.

In the town of Balad, north of the capital, a suicide bomber struck a cafe, killing 12 people and wounding 35, police and a doctor said.

The same cafe was attacked by a suicide bomber in August, killing 16 people.

Militants have launched numerous attacks on cafes in recent months and have also targeted other places where crowds gather, including mosques, football fields, funerals and markets.

In Muqdadiyah, a town northeast of Baghdad that is the site of frequent bombings and shootings, a roadside bomb exploded near a car, killing one person and wounding three.

Another bombing in the Bayaa area of Baghdad itself killed two people and wounded at least 10.

And the Iraqi defence ministry said that security forces killed five militants in clashes south of the town of Baiji, and two more in the northern province of Nineveh.

Security forces have carried out wide-ranging operations against militants for more than two months, but have yet to succeed in curbing the wave of attacks plaguing Iraq.

The latest violence takes this month’s death toll to more than 130, and more than 4,800 since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.

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