At least 45 people have been killed in twin suicide bomb attacks targeting Shia Muslim pilgrims near the Iraqi city of Karbala. More than 170 people were injured in the blasts, with the death toll likely to rise. The first attack struck Karbala’s northern outskirts, while the second blast occurred about 15km south of the city.
Two cars parked outside the checkpoints to the city exploded at the same time. The blasts occurred on two routes being used by pilgrims travelling to the city to take part in the Shia festival of Arbaeen, which marks 40 days since the anniversary of the death of the 7th century Imam Hussein.
Earlier on Thursday, a roadside bomb was detonated among a crowd of Shia pilgrims at the Al-Rasheed vegetable market in southern Baghdad, killing one person and wounding nine, while another such blast in a central Iraqi town killed one and injured three.
In another incident, a suicide bomber blew up an explosives-packed car outside a police office in Baquba, central Iraq. Police say three people were killed including a traffic policeman.
The bomber detonated his payload at around 10:00 am local time (0700 GMT) on Thursday, just a few blocks away from the site of a large suicide car bomb attack against another security agency on Wednesday.
Although violence in Iraq has dropped sharply since its high point three years ago, the country is still plagued by small-scale attacks that have kept the nation on edge and raised doubts about the capabilities of its security forces
The annual pilgrimage, banned under Saddam Hussein, is expected to draw as many as 10 million people this year to the city of Karbala over 10 days. Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has offered help to security agencies in protecting Shia holy places free of cost. But, US and Iraqi agencies are not willing to take the help as Mahdi’s Army of Sadr as it acts independently and sometimes conflicts with US and Iraqi forces. Many think that Al Qaeda and former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party were behind the attacks on the pilgrimage.