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Iraq Transition

Three blasts kill 74 at Baghdad mosque

Shiite leader urges restraint; notes reprisals 'are a real danger'



• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide



BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Three suicide bombers -- two of whom were disguised as Shiite women -- struck a Baghdad mosque affiliated with a major Shiite political party Friday, killing at least 74 people, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry.

Another 140 people were wounded, authorities said.

The attack occurred a day after a bomb killed 10 people and wounded more than three dozen others near the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, the holy Shiite city in south-central Iraq. (Full story)

The attacks in Najaf and Baghdad have heightened fears that Iraq's Shiite militias, which have been blamed for a number of reprisal attacks on Sunnis, could retaliate. The militias have said that if Iraqi security forces can't protect them, they will protect themselves.

The blasts Friday went off more than three hours after noon prayers, as people were leaving, and because of the mosque's prominence and the importance of Friday prayers, many worshippers were at the holy site.

The Buratha Mosque in northern Baghdad has ties with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, part of the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition that won a plurality in the December 15 parliamentary elections.

The mosque's imam is Sheikh Jalaluddin al-Saghir, a member of parliament affiliated with the Shiite alliance.

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, said his group urges restraint after attacks like these, but there is only so much that the leaders can do.

"For three years, we've been bearing the slaughtering, killing and attacking of our scholars, our mosques, our facilities, our pilgrims, our barbers, our bakers, our innocents," al-Hakim said. "We're always talking to our people to restrain themselves.

"Gradually, people will start not to obey. Revenge actions are a real danger."

The bombers -- all of whom were wearing suicide vests -- were men, but two were dressed like Shiite women, wearing long black abaya robes, according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

The attack started when a bomber detonated his explosives outside the site, as worshippers were leaving.

In the ensuing panic, two bombers disguised as the women ran with the crowd toward the mosque. One detonated his explosives at the main entrance, and the other in a hallway, authorities said. (Watch worshippers vent their anger after the blasts -- 2:37)

Security is tight in and around the mosque, but Shiite women heading into the facility usually aren't searched.

News video showed ambulances and pickup trucks hauling the injured away.

Police originally thought three mortars had caused the explosions.

Warning of possible attacks

The Iraqi Interior Ministry had issued warnings about possible attacks Friday, which precedes two significant days. Sunday marks the third anniversary of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime, and Monday honors the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.

SCIRI spokesman Haitham al-Husseini condemned the mosque attack as "horrible" and reiterated the need for angry people to show proper restraint.

"We do have full confidence in the Iraqi people to stay calm and to face the terrorism always, and not to be led by them," he said.

Calling the attack "vicious," Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, offered condolences and exhorted Iraqis to "exercise restraint."

"The terrorists who seek to murder innocent people who worship at Iraq's holy sites and religious institutions are the enemies of all faiths and of all humanity. The United States condemns this cowardly act in the strongest possible terms," Khalilzad said in a written statement.

He said the U.S. government will "do everything in its power" to help the Iraqi government bring those responsible to justice.

Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence has escalated since the bombing February 22 of Al-Askariya Mosque, a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad. That strike, blamed on Sunni insurgents, generated Shiite reprisals and Sunni counterreprisals.

U.S. and British officials have urged Iraqi leaders to end a political stalemate and quickly form a national unity government to ensure the establishment of law and order.

The United Iraqi Alliance and a Kurdish coalition have dominated the transitional government since January 2005.

The former's choice of Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister of the permanent government is a key factor in the stalemate. Sunnis, Kurds and secular Shiites oppose al-Jaafari's nomination and want another candidate.

U.S. military probes civilian's death

A mortar round fired by American soldiers accidentally killed a civilian this week in northwestern Iraq, the U.S. military said Friday.

The military said the death is under investigation. The killing took place Wednesday near a village west of Tal Afar.

"Soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division were firing mortars at a suspected terrorist location when the incident occurred. The round fell short of the intended target and killed the man," a military statement said.

Other developments

  • An American service member died from wounds Friday in a small-arms attack while on patrol in western Baghdad, the U.S. military said. Two troops also died Thursday, the military said: a soldier killed by a roadside blast in Baiji;, and a Marine killed in combat in Anbar province, west of the capital. The number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war stands at 2,347.
  • An Iraqi considered the prime suspect in the 2005 kidnapping of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena has been captured, U.S.-led multinational military forces said Thursday. Muhammed Hila Hammad Ubaydi was caught March 7, but the announcement of his capture was delayed until DNA testing could verify his identity, the military said. Sgrena was kidnapped in Baghdad in February 2005 before being freed a month later after Italian agent Nicola Calipari negotiated her release. He was escorting her to Baghdad International Airport when U.S. troops shot him to death at a checkpoint. The United States said the shooting was an accident; Italy has disputed that conclusion.
  • CNN's Cal Perry, Aneesh Raman, Auday Sadik and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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