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Anchor Marco Werman speaks with the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad about a spate of bombings targeting Shia Muslim pilgrims in Iraq this week.
Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. A fresh wave of violent attacks shook Iraq this week and today Iraqi security officials announced a swift response to one of the deadliest incidents. Officials said they arrested several men suspected of carrying out three coordinated car bombings, in the holy city of Karbala yesterday. The attacks killed more than 50 people, most of them Shiite pilgrims in town for an annual religious commemoration. The BBC's Jim Muir is in Baghdad. Jim, any sense of what these attackers' motivation was?
Jim Muir: Well clearly it is a continuation of a campaign that's been going on to undermine the government and of course to attack Shiites. The assumption is that these were Sunni militants carrying out these attacks. They are the ones who do suicide bombings. I'm not sure if there's been any claims of responsibility yet. But they are normally the ones who are both blamed and who take co-responsibility for such attacks. The Arbayin pilgrimage is an annual event, but there of several of these big Shiite pilgrimages during the year, during which Shiites flock into Karbala on foot from long distances away, farther than Baghdad even, more than a hundred miles away. And they are vulnerable all the way along these routes.
Werman: Well, that was echoed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani today at Friday prayers in Karbala. He said the terrorists seem to remain one step ahead of the government's efforts to protect Iraq. Is that a valid claim?
Muir: Well, it is a factual claim that the bombers seem somehow to find ways of slipping through the net, however stringent the security proportions are. And they are indeed quite stringent. We sent people down to Karbala to check the place out, a couple of days before that, and there are very strict restrictions on vehicular movement and checkpoints all the way and so on. But when you are dealing with people who are willing to blow themselves up, it's a very very difficult thing to do.
Werman: Jim, prior to the several attacks this week, what was the security situation in Iraq like? Has this week's violence been unnerving for Iraqis?
Muir: I think it has certainly shaken the government. It comes against a background of really steadily improving security. Things are much better and you need only go out into the streets of Baghdad to see that. People are going out at night and so on, but every day somewhere, an average of something like a dozen people are being killed. So these things are going on. This week has been exceptionally heavy; we had three days in a row with major suicide bombings. And of course it's bad news for the government for a number of reasons, partly because they are trying so hard to stop it; partly also because the Americans are withdrawing and they should all be out, the last 50,000, by the end of the year. Also because Iraq is planning to host a big Arab summit meeting at the end of March, and they very much want to hold that against a stable environment so that they can invite the Arab leaders here and make them feel safe. Well, with these kind of things hitting the news every day, they are wondering if they are going to be turning up.
Werman: The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad. Thank you, Jim.
Muir: Most welcome, Marco.