A suicide bomber targeted a group of Iraqi Shiite pilgrims who were making their way to a shrine during a religious festival on Wednesday, killing at least 25 and wounding scores more despite a heavy security presence.
REUTERS - A suicide bomber attacked a crowd of Iraqi Shi'ite pilgrims en route to a shrine on Wednesday, killing at least 25 and wounding 62 despite heavy security during a religious festival, a police source said.
The suicide bombing took place just short of a bridge where 1,000 Shi'ite pilgrims died in a stampede during the same rite in 2005 after hearing rumours of a bomb.
The attacker was wearing a belt full of explosives, the police source said. Suicide bombings are often a hallmark of Sunni Islamist groups like al Qaeda, which regard Shi'ite Muslims as apostates. Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite pilgrims clogged the streets of Baghdad on Wednesday to commemorate the death of a medieval Shi'ite holy man, defying bombs and mortar attacks the day before in which six had died.
Security officials assigned 200,000 police officers and soldiers to protect the pilgrims as they headed to the shrine of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim in a northern district of the Iraqi capital. They imposed a city-wide ban on motorcycles and bicycles to help prevent attacks.
Iraqi military helicopters circled over the golden-domed shrine and snipers perched on nearby rooftops, using binoculars to scan the crowds below for signs of trouble.
Protecting the festival is a key test for the Iraqi security forces during a political stalemate that followed an inconclusive election in March, which produced no outright winner and as yet no new government.
In addition to the suicide bombing near the bridge, a roadside bomb in the New Baghdad district killed two pilgrims and wounded 23, while a roadside bomb in southwest Baghdad wounded six and another in southeast Baghdad wounded four.