In Iraq, at least 36 Shiite pilgrims have died today in a series of bombings and ambushes aimed to disrupt Ashura, the holiest period of the year for Shiite. Another five Shiite worshipers were killed on Monday when a rocket-propelled grenade hit a mosque south of Kirkuk. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We end today with one of our top stories in Iraq. At least 36 Shia pilgrims have died in a series of bombings and ambushes aimed to disrupt Ashura, the holiest period of the year for Shia. Another five Shiite worshipers were killed Monday when a rocket-propelled grenade hit a mosque south of Kirkuk.
We’re joined right now in Baghdad by Borzou Daragahi. He is the Baghdad bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Borzou, can you give us the latest news right now in the Iraqi capital?
BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, as you mentioned, it’s been a series of mortar attacks and bombings, mostly targeting Shiite civilians, many of them pilgrims celebrating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Ashura festival, which wraps up today. There are also reports of mortar attacks on Sunni neighborhoods and a Sunni shrine, the Imam Adham temple in northern Baghdad, so it’s just ongoing sectarian warfare. The streets are relatively empty because of the holiday. Kind of spooky out there.
AMY GOODMAN: Borzou, you most recently wrote about the Iraqi and U.S. forces killing several hundred fighters apparently planning an attack on the Shia Muslim shrine in the holy city of Najaf. Describe what you know.
BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t have a lot of ground truth on what’s happening here. We have a lot of official comments from officials down there, in a neighboring province, and also from the capital, essentially saying that there was this Shiite messianic cult. They were recruiting from Sunnis and foreigners, as well. They were holed up in this village. They had suspicions about this village. They went over there. Something happened. There was an altercation. Fighting broke out. They started routing the Iraqi troops. Iraqi troops called for U.S. backup. Eventually, airstrikes came in and killed a whole bunch of people.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you know who those people are?
BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, according to Iraqi officials, according to some of the other people that we talked to who are corroborating that information, they are members of a group called Heaven’s Army or the Soldiers of Heaven, a cult led by a charismatic young guy who claimed that he was the second coming of a Shiite saint.
AMY GOODMAN: Borzou, you’ve been in Iraq for a long time now. What effect, what has been the reaction to, and what evidence is there right now of the escalation of war, of the increased troops, soldiers already coming in from the U.S.?
BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, I think that there’s been no evidence of U.S. forces increasing their activities at this point. As a matter of fact, I tend to know that during these religious holidays, the U.S. forces try to keep a lower profile, because they know that their presence is offensive to certain pious people. But what we have seen is an apparent escalation in the types of attacks that the insurgents are carrying out. It seems like there’s more and more attacks on Shiite civilians over the past couple weeks. There was a little lull in the number of dead bodies that were, you know, we believe, generally caused by Shiite death squads. Those numbers have gone up, as well. So just overall an increase in the intensity of the bloodbath.
AMY GOODMAN: There were major protests in the United States, particularly in Washington, D.C., estimates of tens of thousands to half a million protesting the escalation of war in Iraq, calling for the troops to come home. Did it get any coverage? Was there any reaction from Iraqis in Baghdad?
BORZOU DARAGAHI: I mean, the Iraqi people, in general, they’re under so much pressure and they’re suffering so much. You know, there was a little bit of TV coverage on the international Arabic satellite channels. Most people are just basically trying to get past the next checkpoint.
AMY GOODMAN: Borzou Daragahi, I want to thank you very much for being with us in Baghdad. He’s the bureau chief there for the Los Angeles Times.