Five killed in latest terrorist acts in Iraq ahead of religious festival

A roadside bomb in Baghdad and a mortar attack on Shiite pilgrims south of the capital killed five people Friday, a day before tens of thousands of people were expected in the Shiite holy city of Karbala for a religious festival.

On Thursday, U.S.-led forces turned over control of Iraq's military command to the Shiite-led government, a key step toward the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops, the AP says.

But the ceremony in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone only transferred authority for one of Iraq's 10 divisions and its small air force and navy, and it remained unclear how quickly Iraqi forces would be prepared to take over security.

In Musayyib, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of Baghdad on Friday, three mortar rounds landed on a procession of pilgrims heading to Karbala for Saturday's ceremony, killing at least two and wounding 23, five of whom were critically injured, Musayyib police said.

Tens of thousands of people are expected in Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, on Saturday to observe Shaaban, a mid-month religious festival. Many walk to the city from across Iraq, and several attacks have already occurred against processions heading to the city.

Earlier this week, authorities announced a vehicle ban in the city, while on Monday, Iraqi soldiers clashed with gunmen near Karbala during an operation to secure the area, leaving 14 gunmen and one Iraqi soldier dead, the prime minister's office said at the time.

Last week, 13 Pakistani and Indian Shiite pilgrims and their Iraqi driver were ambushed and killed on their way to the city.

In Baghdad, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol Friday killed two people and wounded six, police said. The blast occurred in the Zayouna area in the east of the capital, and the wounded included three policemen, police 1st Lt. Bilal Ali Majid said.

On Thursday, six bombings - including three by suicide car bombers - targeted police patrols in Baghdad, killing 17 people dead and wounding dozens.

On Thursday, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a document taking control of Iraq's small naval and air forces and the 8th Iraqi Army Division, based in the south.

The top U.S. general in Iraq, George Casey, promised to "continue to fight with you to protect the Iraqi people wherever they are threatened."

"Today is an important milestone, but we still have a way to go," Casey said during the ceremony.

Handing over control of the country's security to Iraqi forces is vital to any eventual drawdown of U.S. forces here. After disbanding the remaining Iraqi army following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, coalition forces have been training the new Iraqi military.

The nine other Iraqi divisions remain under U.S. control, with authority gradually being transferred. U.S. military officials said there was no specific timetable for the transition but U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Wednesday the Iraqis have "talked about perhaps two divisions a month."

And, in an apparent blow to press freedom in Iraq, the government ordered the Arabic satellite network Al-Arabiya to shut its Baghdad operations for one month, state television reported. The network said Iraqi police came to its offices Thursday to enforce the order issued by al-Maliki's Cabinet.

Al-Arabiya said it did not know why it was being shut down. In July, al-Maliki warned television stations against broadcasting footage that could undermine the country's stability.

Meanwhile, in parliament Thursday, a legislative session degenerated into a shouting match as Sunni Arabs accused the majority Shiites of seeking to carve Iraq into sectarian enclaves.

Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani interrupted a session after a draft bill submitted by the largest Shiite party led to accusations from Sunni Arabs that they were trying to divide Iraq. A live broadcast from parliament was pulled off the air amid acrimonious debate.

Sunni Arab legislator Saleh al-Mutlaq threatened his people "will not stay in a parliament that leads to the division of Iraq" and threatened to boycott any session that sought to approve such legislation.

The concept of federalism is enshrined in the new Iraqi constitution, and the Kurds in the north already have their own autonomous region. However, special legislation and a referendum would be needed to establish a federation comprised of autonomous regions.

Both the north and mainly Shiite south are rich in oil, and Sunni Arabs could end up squeezed into Baghdad and Iraq's western provinces, which have no resources. Many Sunnis fear that federalism will lead to the breakup of the country.

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