A suicide bomber blew himself up amid a crowd of Shia pilgrims south of Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 40 people according to police and medical officials. Saïd Refai reports from Baghdad.
KERBALA, Iraq, Feb 24 (Reuters) - A suicide bomber targeting
pilgrims heading to one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest festivals
killed 40 people, including women and children, south of Baghdad
on Sunday, police said.
Police and the U.S. military said the bomber struck in the
town of Iskandariya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, hours
after militants killed three pilgrims and wounded 36 others in
an attack in southern Baghdad, police said.
Police said 40 people were killed and 46 wounded, despite a
major tightening of security. The U.S. military had said
hospital officials were reporting 25 dead and 50 wounded.
The military said in a statement that the attack took place
on a two-lane highway near a residential area where about 42,000
pilgrims had passed through earlier in the day.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police have been
deployed for the Arbain festival after suspected Sunni Arab
insurgents killed 149 pilgrims on their way to Kerbala for the
event last year, in one of the worst spasms of violence since
the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The pilgrims are particularly vulnerable to attack because
many prefer to walk to Kerbala, 110 km (70 miles) south of
Baghdad. They believe the effort will bring them greater
In the Baghdad attack, the pilgrims were hit by a roadside
bomb and then fired on by gunmen on a road used by thousands of
pilgrims walking to the festival of Arbain in the holy southern
Shi'ite city of Kerbala, police said.
The U.S. military gave a different account, saying gunmen
had lobbed hand grenades at the pilgrims in Baghdad, killing one
and wounding 17.
It said U.S. and Iraqi forces would increase patrols and
checkpoints, restricting vehicle access through key routes to
Kerbala from southern Baghdad.
Millions of Shi'ite pilgrims are expected in Kerbala for
Arbain this week, which commemorates the end of the 40-day
mourning period following Ashura, a religious ritual that marks
the death of Prophet Mohammad's grandson in 680.
Kerbala's police chief, Major-General Raad Shakir, told
Reuters last week that 40,000 police and soldiers had been
deployed and that Iraqi tanks were being used to protect the
city for the first time.
All public transport, including bicycles, has been banned
within a 25 km (15.5 mile) radius of the city, and 600 female
security staff have been assigned to search women, police said.
Militants have used horses and carts, bicycles and
motorcycles in bomb attacks in the past. There has also been a
spate of suicide bombings carried out by women in recent months.
In previous years, militants have killed scores of pilgrims
in suicide bombings and other attacks. Sunni Islamist al Qaeda
views Shi'ites, a majority in Iraq but a minority in the Muslim
world, as heretics.
Last August, clashes between rival Shi'ite factions during
another religious festival in Kerbala killed dozens of people
and forced the hurried evacuation of hundreds of thousands of
Date created : 2008-02-24