Anchor Katy Clark speaks with the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad about two suicide bombings in Iraq today, coming on the heels of yesterday's two suicide attacks. The new violence highlights the challenges still ahead in Iraq.
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KATY CLARK: We've heard repeatedly in recent months that the level of violence in Iraq is down. Yet today, two suicide bombings outside a Shiite shrine in Baghdad left some 60 people dead. The bombings came on the heels of two other suicide attacks in Iraq yesterday. Those bombings killed more than 80 people. This new violence comes at a time when US forces are gradually turning over security duties to the Iraqi military. The BBC's Jim Muir is in Baghdad.
JIM MUIR: It's quite clear that whoever is carrying out these attacks, and it's assumed that it is the militant Sunni strand of the insurgency, people related to Al Qaeda, if not Al Qaeda itself, it's the kind of obvious target they would choose. It's clearly sectarian in nature, it's aimed at killing Shiites, and stirring up sectarian violence. And you couldn't pick a better target in that sense than the shrine at al-Kazim, which is the biggest and most important Shiite site in Baghdad itself â€“ the scene of the pilgrimage as well as regular worship. So among the scores who died were at least 25 Iranian pilgrims.
CLARK: A leading Iranian cleric today condemned the violence in Iraq saying, â€œIt's a hateful example of those who harm religion in the name of religion.â€ Is that condemnation likely to resonate among those who planned these suicide bombing in Iraq?
MUIR: I think it will probably please them because they'll realize they're having some effect, they're getting commented on, they're getting noticed. So to that extent it will probably encourage them to carry out more such attacks. Iran for them is one of their very big enemies. They blame Iran for much of what has happened in Iraq, and they apparently would like to see as many Iranians as well as many Shiites as possible killed in order to spark off another spiral of sectarian violence.
CLARK: This is the type of sectarian violence that really fueled the height of the insurgency in 2006 and 2007. We're learning today that there are figures out now saying that since 2005, more than 87,000 Iraqi civilians and members of the country's security force have died violent deaths. What's the response where you are to those figures, if anything, right now?
MUIR: Well, they are being taken I think as pretty solid figures, but bedrock figures. In other words, they're not the full picture because as the Health Ministry which produced those figures admits, there are other people who probably died lonely deaths without being recorded. These are figures from the morgues and hospitals, registered deaths, around the country. So it is a horrendous figure, but if you extrapolate from them, you would reach a ballpark figure of something like 150,000 killed all told.
CLARK: And the kind of suicide bombings that we've seen today and yesterday in Iraq, I'm wondering if this is the kind of thing Iraqis fear will become more common as US troops are withdrawing from Iraq?
MUIR: That is very much the fear, because this is happening now in Baghdad itself, which is supposed to be pacified under all the various security plans that have been enforced in the last couple of years and violence had come right down. But we've had these two suicide bombings in Baghdad itself in the last 48 hours, in places like major shrines, which are supposed to be high security. People are asking how can that happen, and will it get worse when the Americans withdraw as they're supposed to do from the cities by the end of June?
CLARK: At least around the area of today's bombing, it was my understanding that that particular area was under the control of Iraqi security forces. Does this raise new doubts about the effectiveness of the Iraqi forces to prevent attacks like this in the future?
MUIR: Well, I think it does. And the government â€“ the Iraqi government has already ordered an inquiry to find out just how this could have happened. Now, the Iraqi director for the bomb squad said it was women who smuggled bombs in their handbags and were also carrying hand grenades to detonate those bombs. It has proved notoriously difficult to stop women suicide bombers because there's a cultural sensitivity about searching them and they can hide a lot of material under their flowing robes. So very often, women have been able to carry out these suicide bomb attacks where men probably wouldn't be able to get away with it.
CLARK: The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad. Thank you very much.