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Four killed as pilgrims attack Sunni district in Baghdad

Four residents of Adhamiyah killed as passing Shiite pilgrims reportedly set fire to houses of the Sunni district in the Iraqi capital
An Iraqi Shiite Muslim worshiper self flagellates outside the Imam Kadhim shrine to mark the anniversary of the Imam's death on 13 May, 2015 in the capital Baghdad (AFP)

Four people were killed on Thursday in Baghdad's Sunni district of Adhamiyah after Shiite pilgrims passing through the area set 17 houses and a religious endowment building on fire.   

Iraqi police sources said that the four were burned to death in their homes, but medical sources noted that some of them had bullet wounds.

"Some elements infiltrated in the midst of the pilgrims heading to the shrine of Imam Musa Kadhim attacked a Sunni religious endowment building. They burned [the building] as well as 17 other houses," a police colonel told AFP.

Iraqi officials sought to blame the violence on a plot to divide Iraqis.

"Some are angered by the fact that Iraqis are united in facing terrorism, that's why they tried to sow this discord," said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi after visiting the site.

But some commentators on social media saw the government's suggestion that the attack was a major plot as adding insult to injury, especially since the perpetrators' faces are clear on the video footage of the incident and could be investigated. 

Translation: The cold stance of the government infuriates Sunnis more than the acts committed by the militias in Adhamiyah. The faces of the criminals are visible.  

Others mocked the government's suggestion that the whole incident was staged by such a large number of participants.  

Translation: Hundreds of infiltrators! Burning institutions and houses of innocent people out of fear of space infiltrators. With the protection of infiltrated security forces! A whole nation of infiltrators? #Adhamiyah_burning

It remains unclear how the violence was sparked, but witnesses reported that someone shouted that a suicide bomber was about to detonate himself, causing panic and leading an angry crowd to vandalise the cars and houses in the area.

What may have added to the confusion, according to witnesses, is that some in the crowd mistook police warning shots as fire directed at them by the district's residents.

In one video, shared on social media but which could not be independently verified, a crowd is heard shouting "Ali, we are with you," in a reference to the Prophet's cousin, revered by both Shiites and Sunnis, but the slogan is normally used by Shiites.

In another segment of the video, a voice could heard shouting: "there are women there," to which another replied "damn them" and a third person shouted "they're Sunnis, Daeshis [belonging to the Islamic State]."

The pilgrims were marching overnight through Adhamiyah to visit the shrine of revered Imam Kadhim, to mark the anniversary of his death in 799 AD.

Around 75,000 security personnel were deployed to protect the capital as attacks against pilgrims have become common since the rise in sectarian sentiments in the country following the 2003 US-led invasion.

The violent incident was seized by some to promote compassion between Sunnis and Shiites.