Attacks in Iraq Target Shiites, Sunnis

During another day of intense bloodshed in Iraq, suicide bombers strike a Shiite holy city and a Sunni town, leaving at least 120 dead and some 200 wounded.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Today was one of the deadliest days in Iraq in months. More than 100 people were killed in two suicide bomb attacks. One took place in the holy Shiite city of Karbala; the other at a police recruitment center in Ramadi, a Sunni Muslim town west of Baghdad. The death toll in the two attacks is expected to rise. Five US soldiers were also killed today when their patrol hit a roadside bomb. NPR's Jamie Tarabay has details from Baghdad.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

The scenes of today's suicide attacks couldn't be more different. In Karbala, religious pilgrims were milling in the courtyard linking the city's two holy shrines when the suicide bomber struck. It's a place of constant activity. Shops sell religious artifacts, sweets, toys for children to visitors from all over Iraq and neighboring Iran, who pray at the shrine around the clock. No car traffic is allowed; the bomber came on foot. The government says 63 were killed in the explosion and 120 were injured. Women and children lay among the dead; people used pushcarts to carry away the wounded.

The Shiite-dominated government blamed Sunni insurgents for the Karbala attack, accusing them of trying to derail attempts to ease sectarian tensions in the country.

Meanwhile, in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi in western Iraq, dozens of young men aged between 20 and 35 stood in line at a police recruitment center. Again, the suicide bomber was on foot and, again, managed to walk into the crowd before detonating explosives. The US military says some 30 Iraqi men were killed. The ethnicities of the victims are not known; most were likely Sunnis. But that has little importance for the insurgents. They've made Iraq's fledgling security forces the persistent target of deadly attacks.

In a sign of economic desperation, in a country where jobs are few and salaries meager, recruits returned to the screening center afterwards. They've been going there for the past three days hoping to get jobs where their responsibilities include patrolling Ramadi's turbulent streets. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

NORRIS: At the Pentagon today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave his first public appearance since visiting with American troops in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. General Peter Pace said morale among the troops is high. On one of the deadliest days since the war in Iraq began, Pace said he expected more Iraqis to join the political process in the coming year and fewer to support the insurgents. But Pace acknowledged that insurgents have the capacity to continue the violence.

General PETER PACE (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): Clearly, there's enough munitions scattered around that country still that the capacity to attack will be there. The difference will be the ability of the Iraqi armed forces and Iraqi police to maintain order inside the cities and countryside and the desire of the Iraqi people to live a normal life.

NORRIS: That's Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking today at the Pentagon.

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