Bombs target Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad, killing 9

BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded at a bus station in southwestern Baghdad, killing seven civilians and wounding 37 others — one of a series of bombings across the country today, officials said.

The car was parked next to several buses in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Bayaa, which had been the scene of fierce clashes between Shiite militias and Sunnis two years ago.

The majority of dead and wounded were Shiite pilgrims waiting to board buses on their way to the holy city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, an Iraqi police official said.

The explosion set several vehicles on fire and scattered debris throughout the area, police reported.

The police official and an official at Yarmouk Hospital reported seven deaths. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The bus station bombing came just hours after another car bomb exploded near a minibus carrying Shiite pilgrims through a mainly Sunni area of eastern Baghdad. Two people were killed and 12 wounded, police said.

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims are expected to gather in Karbala on Monday to mark the end of 40 days of mourning that follow Ashoura, the anniversary of the seventh-century death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein.

He was killed in a battle for the leadership of the nascent Muslim nation following Muhammad’s death in 632.

Elsewhere, a suicide car bomb targeted a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol in Mosul, north of Baghdad, said a U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Jose A. Lopez. The car detonated as the patrol passed by, killing one Iraqi soldier and wounding another, he said. There were no reports of U.S. casualties.

Also in Mosul, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed one person, said an Iraqi police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

The bombings came the same day Iran’s foreign minister led a delegation of oil and banking officials to Iraq to discuss expanding ties between the two countries, officials said — a sign of the growing foreign interest in Iraq’s economic potential in the Middle East.

During the visit, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he was optimistic that conditions throughout the Middle East will improve if President Barack Obama sticks by promises for change that he made during the U.S. election campaign.

“We looked positively at the slogans presented by Obama, and we are still at the same position: if the U.S. administration wants to go with them, then it’s good news,” Mottaki told reporters, without citing specifics.

“We do believe that these changes give America a good chance in its relations with other countries in the world,” he added. “As diplomats, we are optimistic.”

Mottaki, who arrived here today, made his remarks one day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared his country was ready for talks with the United States “in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect.”

It was the strongest signal yet that Tehran welcomes Obama’s calls for dialogue after three decades of hostility since the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

Iraq had become one of the major flashpoints between the U.S. and Iran after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, with U.S. officials accusing the Iranians of backing Shiite militias that were killing Americans.

Iran denied supporting Iraqi extremists but made clear it considered the presence of U.S. forces here a threat to Iranian security.

Despite the interest in dialogue, Mottaki said he saw no reason to continue talks held in 2007 in Baghdad between U.S. and Iranian diplomats on security in Iraq. He said the Iraqi government had now assumed responsibility under the new U.S.-Iraq security agreement that took effect this year.

“In that regard, we can conclude this government can restore security in all of Iraq, and on that basis these kind of discussions have no place under the current circumstances,” he said.

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