| An injured man is taken to hospital after the bomb blasts in Karbala. (AFP)
Baghdad/Karbala, March 2 (Reuters): Coordinated suicide bombs and mortars tore into vast crowds of Shia worshippers today, killing at least 143 people on Iraq’s bloodiest day since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Leaders of the country’s 60 per cent Shia majority said the bloodbaths were intended to ignite civil war. The Iraqi governing council blamed a Jordanian who Washington says is working for al Qaida and trying to fuel chaos in Iraq.
The US military said three suicide bombers killed 58 people in Baghdad around the Kadhimiya mosque, and a suicide bomber, mortars and concealed bombs combined to kill at least 85 in Karbala, a Shia holy city 110 km to the south.
The near-simultaneous attacks ripped through an annual ritual — banned under Sunni Saddam — during which Shias beat their heads and chests and cut their heads with swords to honour a revered figure killed in battle 1,324 years ago.
The Shia spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani blamed the US-led occupation forces in Iraq for failing to secure the country’s borders and called for unity after today's deadly attacks on Shia shrines.
“We put responsibility on the occupation forces for the noticeable procrastination in controlling the borders of Iraq and preventing infiltrators, and not strengthening Iraqi national forces and supplying them with the necessary equipment to their jobs,” Sistani said.
US and allied military officials said the attacks did not mean security was inadequate, but showed it was impossible to beat determined guerrillas every time.
In Kerbala, where at least two million worshippers had gathered, rescuers raced through the streets with bodies stacked two or three deep on wooden carts, desperately searching for a doctor or an ambulance.
Shias who earlier had ritually gashed open their heads with swords queued up to give blood to the wounded. Many of the victims were blown to pieces. A man’s scalp and ear lay alongside rotting fruit.
Several governing council members blamed the blasts on Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian whom Washington suspects of being behind a series of major attacks in Iraq. US forces have placed a $10 million bounty on his head. They said last month they had intercepted a computer disc with a letter from Zarqawi urging suicide bomb attacks on Shias to inflame sectarian tension in Iraq.
“This was a clear and tragically well organised act of terrorism,” Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy chief of operations for the US army in Iraq, said. He said a man strapped with explosives had been apprehended near the Baghdad mosque — the capital’s holiest Shia shrine — and several people had been arrested in Kerbala.
In a separate attack in Baghdad, guerrillas threw a bomb at a US military vehicle, killing one American soldier and seriously wounding another, the army said.
The death took to 379 the number of US soldiers killed in action since the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq nearly a year ago.