BAGHDAD (AP) – A female suicide bomber attacked a procession of Shiite pilgrims, many of them women and children, south of Baghdad on Friday, killing 35 people and injuring 65 others, officials said. It was the third straight day of deadly bombings against Shiite pilgrims.
The bomber detonated her explosives among pilgrims walking to the holy city of Karbala for Shiite religious ceremonies, a police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf confirmed the attack and said security officials were rushing to the scene, located between the cities of Mussayib and Iskandariyah about 40 miles (60 kilometers) south of Baghdad.
Two medical officials in nearby hospitals, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason, confirmed the number of dead and wounded and said most were women and children.
The attacks against the pilgrims appear to be part a Sunni extremist campaign to rekindle the sectarian conflict that nearly plunged the country into full-scale civil war two years ago.
On Thursday, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt packed with nails among Shiite worshippers in Karbala near the revered Imam Hussein shrine, killing eight pilgrims and wounding more than 50.
A day earlier, at least 12 people were killed and more than 40 wounded in bombings in Baghdad that targeted Shiite pilgrims traveling to Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the south.
Iraqi officials have mounted an extensive security operation to protect the pilgrims, who will be celebrating Monday’s end of 40 days of mourning that follow Ashoura, the anniversary of the seventh-century death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein. He was killed in a battle near Karbala for the leadership of the nascent Muslim nation following Muhammad’s death in 632. His death led to the split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
About 40,000 Iraqi troops have been deployed along major routes to Karbala, and officials say security cameras have been installed near the Imam Hussein shrine to keep a lookout for possible threats.
Despite strict security, al-Qaida and other extremist groups have frequently targeted Shiite pilgrims during religious commemorations, which were severely curtailed under Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime.
Last March, a female suicide bomber attacked Shiite worshippers in Karbala, killing at least 49. At least 85 people died in a suicide bombing in Karbala in March 2004.
The chief U.N. official in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, has said the attacks against pilgrims were “clearly designed to sectarian tensions” that many Iraqis hope are behind them.
Also Friday, an old mortar round killed two young boys, ages 10 and 15, who were playing in the backyard of a farm house in Musayyib, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) south of Baghdad, said a police official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.