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Bombs kill 9 during Shiite holiday

BAGHDAD - Bombs and a rocket attack killed at least nine worshippers in northern Iraq on Saturday during the holiest celebration of Shiite Islam, as hundreds of thousands of bloody penitents across Iraq honored the martyrdom of their revered saint. Despite the violence in the north - and clashes in the south with a Shiite cult that was apparently plotting to disrupt the Ashoura celebrations - the culmination of the 10-day observance was peaceful compared with previous years, when hundreds have died in Sunni Arab mortar attacks or car bombings. South of Baghdad, authorities raised the death toll from clashes in two predominantly Shiite cities to at least 72, including security forces, civilians and gunmen, but said the standoff with the Soldiers of Heaven cult ended when troops stormed a mosque and rousted followers who were holed up inside. Three suicide bombers also targeted a police station in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province west of Baghdad. Guards killed one attacker, but two others detonated their explosives at the entrance, killing at least five officers, authorities said. The former insurgent stronghold has become relatively peaceful as Sunni tribal leaders and officials joined forces with the U.S. military to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. The terror network has struck back against the members of so-called awakening councils, and a series of recent high-profile attacks has eroded the security gains of the previous six months, when violence dropped across much of the country. Two bombs hidden under trash struck an Ashoura procession in the city of Kirkuk on Saturday, killing at least two, police Brig. Gen. Burhan Tayeb Taha said. Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, has seen a rise in violence as militants have fled crackdowns elsewhere and ethnic tensions over the status of the oil-rich city. A rocket attack also struck a busy market in the northern city of Tal Afar, killing at least seven people. Mayor Najim Abdullah said the victims were gathering after performing the Ashoura rituals. One Sunni resident who identified himself as Abu Ismail said he was on his roof when he heard an explosion and saw several Shiites gathered below fall to the ground. 'I feel sad for the innocent people lost today,' he said. In another attack targeting Shiites, a bomb hidden in a black trash bag exploded near a popular restaurant in Baghdad's Sadr City, killing at least two people, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. Provincial Gov. Aqil al-Khazali estimated that the main procession in the holy city of Karbala drew some 2 million pilgrims, including hundreds from Iran, Pakistan, India and other regional countries, and no violence was reported. Some 30,000 troops were deployed in the city, including reinforcements from Baghdad. Ashoura observances mark the seventh century death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in a battle near Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, that enshrined the Sunni-Shiite schism.