More Bombings Target Pilgrims: 18 Killed in Karbala
Two car bombs struck Shiite pilgrims Monday in an Iraqi holy city, killing at least 18 people as crowds massed for religious rituals marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for the Islamic sect's most beloved saint.
The blasts in Karbala were the latest in nearly a week of attacks that have killed at least 159 people. The uptick in violence has shattered a lengthy period of calm and raised anew concerns about the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over their own security ahead of a full withdrawal by the U.S. military.
The first attack occurred about 7 a.m. in a parking lot near busloads of pilgrims on the eastern outskirts of Karbala, 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Baghdad. Police and hospital officials said that six pilgrims were killed and 34 people wounded in that attack.
A second bomb was discovered nearby and dismantled before it could explode, police said.
More than four hours later, a second car bomb struck pilgrims on the southern edge of the city, killing at least 12 people, including 10 pilgrims and two soldiers, and wounding 21, the officials said.
There is a vehicle ban in Karbala for the holy period so pilgrims are dropped off at parking lots and walk in.
Monday's attacks followed a triple suicide bombing last week along two highways leading to Karbala that killed 56 and wounded at least 180 — most of them Shiite pilgrims.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are gathering in Karbala for Monday's ceremonies marking the end of Arbaeen, a 40-day mourning period to observe the seventh century death of the Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.
His death in battle near Karbala sealed Islam's historic Sunni-Shiite split — the ancient divide that provided the backdrop for the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led war.
No group claimed responsibility for Monday's blast, but car bombs and suicide attacks are the trademark of al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni religious extremists.(AP)