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The New Arab

Scores of Iraqis killed in Damascus twin bombing

The area is home to many Shia pilgrimage sites and mausuleums [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 March, 2017

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Forty Iraqi pilgrims were reported among the victims of one the bloodiest attacks seen in Syria's capital.

Bombings targeting Shia pilgrims in Damascus killed around 40 Iraqis on Saturday, the Iraqi foreign ministry said.

"Preliminary statistics indicate the fall of around 40 Iraqi martyrs and 120 wounded," ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal said in a statement, terming it a "criminal terrorist operation."

Jamal said that roadside bombs targeted buses carrying the pilgrims, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that there was one roadside and one suicide bombing in the Bab al-Saghir area of Damascus.

The Iraqi statement blamed the attack on "takfiri groups," referring to Sunni Muslim extremist organisations that declare those who do not follow their ideology to be "kuffar", or infidels.

These include the Islamic State group, which Iraq is battling at home, but which also holds significant ground in Syria.

The Damascus attack could provide the impetus for increased Iraqi strikes against IS in Syria, which Baghdad has already carried out near the border.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has vowed that he would "not hesitate" to strike extremists in neighbouring countries if they posed a threat.

The area, located near Damascus' Old City, is home to many Shia pilgrimage sites and mausuleums.

Attacks in Syria's capital, a stronghold of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, are a rare occurrence as fighting has concentrated on the city's outskirts.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the country's six-year-old civil war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

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