Bombs targeting Shiite pilgrims in Iraq kill 50

A pair of bombs blasted through security checkpoints ringing the Iraqi holy city of Karbala Thursday and killed at least 50 people, many of whom were Shiite pilgrims headed to observe yearly religious rituals. Authorities estimated as many as 175 people were injured in the afternoon blasts, at least one of which appeared to be caused by a car bomb. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. But they bore the hallmark of al-Qaida and other Sunni-dominated extremist groups that frequently target Shiite pilgrimages in hopes of re-igniting sectarian violence that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war just a few years ago. Ali Khamas, a pilgrim from the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in Baghdad, said he saw a car speeding toward one of the checkpoints, its driver refusing to stop despite warnings screamed by Iraqi soldiers.

(AP)

Shi'ite pilgrims march to attend the religious ceremony of Arbain, in Baghdad January 20, 2011. A roadside bomb killed one Shi'ite pilgrim and wounded nine others, in Baghdad's southern Doura district, an Interior Ministry source said. The pilgrims were walking to the holy Shi'ite city of Kerbala to commemorate the religious event of Arbain.

A pair of bombs blasted through security checkpoints ringing the Iraqi holy city of Karbala Thursday and killed at least 50 people, many of whom were Shiite pilgrims headed to observe yearly religious rituals.

Authorities estimated as many as 175 people were injured in the afternoon blasts, at least one of which appeared to be caused by a car bomb.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. But they bore the hallmark of al-Qaida and other Sunni-dominated extremist groups that frequently target Shiite pilgrimages in hopes of re-igniting sectarian violence that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war just a few years ago.

Shiite pilgrims march on their way to Karbala for Arbaeen, in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. The holiday marks the end of the forty-day mourning period after the anniversary of the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson. Police and hospital officials in Baghdad said a roadside bomb killed one pilgrim and wounded several others as they were walking to Karbala, a holy city where religious rituals are about to peak in an end to a 40-day mourning period for Shiites.

Ali Khamas, a pilgrim from the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in Baghdad, said he saw a car speeding toward one of the checkpoints, its driver refusing to stop despite warnings screamed by Iraqi soldiers.

"He sped up and blew up his car near the checkpoint," said Khamas, a 42-year-old truck driver. "After the explosion, people started to run in all directions, while wounded people on the ground were screaming for help. I saw several dead bodies on the ground."

Still, Khamas said, the pilgrims continued to head to Karbala: "It will not deter us from continuing our march to the holy shrine ... even if the explosions increase."

Shiite pilgrims march on their way to Karbala for Arbaeen, in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. The holiday marks the end of the forty-day mourning period after the anniversary of the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson. Police and hospital officials in Baghdad said a roadside bomb killed one pilgrim and wounded several others as they were walking to Karbala, a holy city where religious rituals are about to peak in an end to a 40-day mourning period for Shiites.

The religious rituals mark the end of an annual 40-day mourning period observing the seventh-century death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Imam Hussein is one of the most revered figures among Shiite Muslims and was killed in Karbala in a battle that sealed Islam's historic Sunni-Shiite split.

Iraqi security officials initially said both bombs in Thursday's attack were planted along the highway that pilgrims were using to walk to Karbala. A police official later said the blasts might have been the work of suicide bombers or explosives-packed cars.

Such confusion is common immediately after large-scale attacks. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The bombings were the latest in a three-day barrage of attacks across Iraq that have killed more than 100 people since Tuesday.

Shiite pilgrims march on their way to Karbala for Arbaeen, in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. The holiday marks the end of the forty-day mourning period after the anniversary of the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson. Police and hospital officials in Baghdad said a roadside bomb killed one pilgrim and wounded several others as they were walking to Karbala, a holy city where religious rituals are about to peak in an end to a 40-day mourning period for Shiites.