Attack on Shiite Ceremony Kills 20 Iraqis

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A Shiite religious ceremony in southern Baghdad is again marred by violence when gunmen open fire on pilgrims, killing 20. The annual event, which drew hundreds of thousands, was disrupted last year when rumors of suicide bombers in the crowds sparked a stampede that killed more than 1,000.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Saddam Hussein has gone on trial a second time. This time the Iraqi leader is accused of a long campaign of destruction against Iraq's Kurds. Iraqis are trying to deal with their past in the midst of a violent present and some of the latest attacks came on one of the holiest days for Shiite Muslims. This is the ceremony in which rumors of suicide bombers caused a deadly stampede one year ago. This year gunmen opened fire.

And our coverage begins with NPR's Tom Bullock.

(Soundbite of praying)

TOM BULLOCK reporting:

More than one million Iraqi Shiites from all across the country converged on the gold-domed Kadhimiyah Shrine in northern Baghdad marking the 8th century martyrdom of a Shiite religious figure. Iraqi authorities instituted a Baghdad-wide ban on cars, hoping to keep the pilgrims safe from suicide bombers. The attackers simply switched tactics.

The vehicle ban forced the Shiite pilgrims to walk through a number of Sunni neighborhoods, their processions announced by chants and drums. Gunmen set up ambushes and sniper positions and opened fire as the pilgrims drew near. In all, Iraqi authorities say 20 were killed and more than 300 wounded. Still, U.S. and Iraqi officials were quick to say their security plan worked. In a statement the U.S. military said the event occurred with relatively little violence.

Tom Bullock, NPR News, Baghdad.

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