27 die from pipeline explosion in Diwaniya, Iraq

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Diwaniya, Iraq— At least 27 people are dead after a disused pipeline exploded today. Unconfirmed reports have already placed the count as high as 74. Fuel shortages are common in Iraq, even though the country is endowed with large reserves of petroleum. According to reports, locals cut holes in the unused pipeline to syphon fuel, igniting fumes inside the pipeline. Many of the survivors were left with severe injuries, often with burns over 75% of their bodies. The blast comes after fierce fighting yesterday in Diwaniya between Iraqi government forces and the local Mehdi Militia that claimed 40 lives. The Mehdi Militia are loyal to the cleric Moqtada Sadr.

In Baghdad, 20 people were found shot to death. Investigators said the victims had been bound, and showed signs of torture. The bodies were dumped behind a Shia mosque, heightening tensions between Iraq's cultural factions. As sectarian killings continue, the divide between the Shia and Sunnis is driven deeper. Armed groups now patrol neighbourhoods that at one time coexisted peacefully. The groups are often comprised of local militias, or simply by vigilantes bent on protecting their territory. In spite of the violence, some economy continues to survive. "Shoula property prices have risen a lot, because it is protected by the Mehdi Army and is safe," said Ahmad Abdel Karim,a Shia police officer and member of the Mehdi Militia, "Sunni families left on their own. No one threatened them. They left so that the bombs fall only on Shias. The Americans come here with the National Guard. They try to confiscate weapons from the Mehdi Army so that this area falls to the terrorists."

On Tuesday, two Shia militia members were killed by insurgents in the city of Baquba.

On the other side of the fence a small Sunni enclave exists, guarded by equally dedicated Sunni community members. "My life is basically between the house and guarding the mosque. You can't go anywhere else. If you go down that street, it's almost guaranteed a car will stop, pick you up, and you'll disappear." - Mohamed Reyad, a former plumber. Reyad said that weapons were provided by his "Sunni brothers", which included a group of scholars.

The latest wave of violence comes as US and Iraqi government forces have intensified efforts to secure Baghdad against growing violence and division among Iraqis.