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Suicide bomber kills pilgrims, soldiers in Iraq

Suicide bomber kills pilgrims, soldiers in Iraq

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide car bomber blew himself up Thursday near an Islamic shrine, killing five Iraqis in the latest attack on Shiite Muslim pilgrims marking a major religious holiday.

The blast in Tuz Khormato, 55 miles south of Kirkuk, killed three civilians, including a child, and two soldiers helping guard the shrine, police reported. Sixteen people were wounded, hospital officials said.

Fighters from the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency staged a string of attacks on Shiite pilgrims in the days leading up to the festival, which marks the end of a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and one of Shiites' most important saints.

The day's biggest gathering was in the holy city of Karbala, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visited two shrines, marched in honor of Hussein and beat their chests with their fists in a sign of mourning.

Seeking to head off attacks, police in Karbala closed streets to vehicles, set up checkpoints and frisked people for weapons. No major incidents were reported.

Late Wednesday, gunmen ambushed a truck carrying pilgrims near Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad, and killed one person, and an attack earlier in the day killed a pilgrim in southern Iraq. On Monday, two attacks on pilgrims left four dead, including two police officers.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, meanwhile, said his country's troops will leave Iraq by year's end. Ukraine had already said it would begin pulling out its 1,650 soldiers, the fifth-largest contingent in the U.S.-led coalition, but had not set a timetable for completing the withdrawal.

A number of nations have pulled out of Iraq, pressured by criticism of the mission at home and threats from militant groups in Iraq, which have kidnapped and even beheaded some foreigners.

In Romania, which has 800 soldiers in Iraq, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu refused Thursday to say whether he would consider withdrawing his country's troops after kidnappers released a video showing three Romanian journalists who were abducted in Baghdad.

The video, aired Wednesday by Al-Jazeera satellite television, showed the three Romanian journalists and a fourth unidentified person - possibly an American - with guns pointed at them. But Tariceanu said no demands had been made.

The continuing violence in Iraq led interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to extend a state of emergency until the end of April. First announced nearly five months ago, the order affects all of Iraq except Kurdish-run areas in the north. The emergency decree includes a nighttime curfew and gives the government extra powers to make arrests without warrants.

Allawi's announcement came as a suicide bomber exploded his car next to a U.S. military Humvee in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding more than a dozen, hospital officials said. There were no U.S. casualties, the U.S. military said.

Also in Samarra, assailants fired at a police station with rocket-propelled grenades and guns, police official Qasim Muhamed said. No casualties were reported.

A roadside bomb in the southern city of Basra injured six policemen on patrol and one bystander, police Lt. Col. Karim Al-Zubaidi said.

The U.S. military reported three U.S. soldiers killed in separate clashes, bringing the number of American military deaths in March to 33 - the lowest monthly death toll since 20 were killed in February 2004.

Copyright © 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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