Islamic State claims Baghdad car bomb attacks against Shi'ites

BAGHDAD (AFP) - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extemist group has claimed responsibility for two car bomb attacks against Shi'ites in Baghdad, with Iraq under tight security Monday ahead of the annual Ashura commemorations.

A statement by the Sunni Islamic ISIS posted on extremist websites said "the heroes of Islam" detonated one car bomb in central Baghdad targeting Shi'ite security personnel and the other in the Shi'ite-majority Sadr City ara in the capital's north.

The two Sunday bombings killed at least 18 people and wounded dozens more, security and medical officials said.

A third blast struck near a tent in Al-Ilam where Shi'ites were distributing refreshments, killing at least 13 people, but the ISIS statement did not mention that attack.

"God permitted his servants the mujahedeen to break all of the alleged (security) plans of the Safavid government that they brag about in their media," the statement said, using a pejorative term for Shi'ites.

It said the bombings were carried out to coincide with "the greatest of their blasphemous seasons", a reference to Ashura, a Shi'ite commemoration that will peak on Tuesday.

Iraq has implemented heavy security measures involving tens of thousands of security forces members and allied militiamen to protect Shi'ites during Ashura.

Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ites will flock to the shrine city of Karbala south of Baghdad for Ashura, which marks the death of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered figures in Shi'ite Islam.

Ashura processions are also held in Baghdad and other parts of the country.

Shi'ites have been targeted during Ashura before, but this year's commemorations face even greater danger with ISIS in control of large areas of the country.

ISIS, like other Sunni extremist groups, considers Shi'ites to be heretics and frequently targets them with bombings.

Ashura is a major test for the new government headed by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, as well as for Iraq's security forces, who have struggled to push the militants back.

A major attack during the commemorations in Karbala, where Imam Hussein is buried, would increase already significant tensions between Iraq's Shi'ite majority and Sunni Arab minority, and could spark revenge attacks.