Five rockets hit Iraq’s Green Zone; three roadside bombs in Baghdad kill two pilgrims

Iraqi civil defense personnel gather at the site of a bomb attack in Baghdad’s northwestern Kadhimiya district on Thursday. A set of explosions involving two car bombs in Kadhimiya killed at least 15 people and wounded 32. (Reuters)

Insurgents fired five rockets against Baghdad’s Green Zone during Iraq’s Armed Forces Day parade on Friday, a security official said.

The rockets hit on the outer edge of the heavily-fortified area, home to the U.S. embassy and parliament, at 12:25 pm (0925 GMT) and did not cause any casualties, the intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

They struck as Iraq’s armed forces marked the 91st anniversary of their foundation with a huge parade in the Green Zone just weeks after U.S. troops left and with the country mired in a political crisis.

The Armed Forces Day display by the fledgling 280,000-strong security force completely reformed after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, comes with a standoff between the Shiite-led government and the main Sunni-backed bloc stoking sectarian tensions and minority warnings of politicization of the military.

The noise caused by the rockets exploding could be heard from inside the grounds where the military parade was taking place, an AFP journalist said.

Sectarian attacks continue

Meanwhile, roadside bombs killed two Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad on Friday, the day after the country’s deadliest sectarian violence in more than a year left scores dead, officials said.

The new wave of attacks, which bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents, raised fears of a renewal of the widespread sectarian bloodshed that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war just a few years ago.

At least three roadside bombs exploded Friday morning in different parts of the capital, wounding 17 people in addition to the two killed, police and hospital officials said.

They struck Shiite pilgrims making their way toward the sacred city of Karbala for a holy day that draws hundreds of thousands of believers from across Iraq each year.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to brief the media.

A series of bombings targeting members of Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority claimed the lives of at least 78 people on Thursday, marking the second large-scale attack by militants since U.S. forces pulled out last month.

The attacks occurred in the run-up to Arbaeen, a holy day that marks the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure. During this time, Shiite pilgrims - many on foot - make their way across Iraq to Karbala, south of Baghdad.

Coordinated attacks aimed at Shiites are a tactic frequently used by Sunni insurgents.

The last U.S. combat troops left Iraq on Dec. 18, ending a nearly nine-year war. Many Iraqis worry that a resurgence of Sunni and Shiite militancy could follow the Americans' withdrawal. In 2006, a Sunni attack on a Shiite shrine triggered a wave of sectarian violence that pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

The violence in Iraq comes as the country’s main factions are mired in a crisis pitting politicians from the Shiite majority now in power against the Sunni minority, which dominated government under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

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