BAGHDAD (AP) – The U.S. military said Friday that three of its soldiers were killed in an attack on a base outside Iraq’s second largest city of Basra, in the south.
Two Iraqis were also killed by a bomb in Baghdad as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered to mark the death of a revered Shiite religious figure.
“Three Multi-National Division-South Soldiers were killed when Contingency Operating Base Basra was attacked by indirect fire,” the military said, referring to a mortar or rocket attack.
The security situation in Iraq has improved dramatically in the last two years, though militants still carry out lethal attacks on a regular basis. Last year, U.S. and Iraqi forces routed Shiite militias from their strongholds in Basra.
Britain, which had a large force there, has ended combat operations and begun pulling out its troops.
British bases around the city and the airport were once subject to nearly constant mortar barrages by Shiite militias that many say are funded and trained by Iran. Iran denies it has any links to Shiite extremists.
The attack, which took place Thursday night at 9:15 p.m. may indicate that these militias are experiencing a resurgence.
In Baghdad, a bomb planted under a bridge killed a married couple who were among hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims heading to a holy shrine.
Throngs flocked to a holy shrine to commemorate the death of Imam Mousa al-Kazim, a revered Shiite imam. Security in Baghdad was tightened, especially around the shrine in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Kazimiyah.
The bomb, which exploded around 2:30 a.m. Friday, was planted beneath a bridge in eastern Baghdad. Twelve others were wounded, according to police and medical officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk to the media.
On Thursday, 18 people were injured in an explosion that targeted a minibus transporting pilgrims to the shrine.
At the same event in 2005, nearly 1,000 Shiite pilgrims died in a stampede during a religious procession on a bridge near the shrine. They panicked when they heard unfounded rumors of a suicide bomber, and crushed one another or plunged into the Tigris River. Under former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, these pilgrimages were severely curtailed. After his fall, they experienced a massive resurgence but have also been targeted by Sunni insurgents.