Explosion Kills 40 on Route to Karbala

A woman suicide bomber dressed in a black abaya blew herself up in a crowd of women and children Shiite pilgrims south of the Iraqi capital on Friday, killing at least 35 worshippers, officials said. Interior Ministry spokesman Abdel-Karim Khalaf said 35 people were killed and 68 wounded, almost all women and children, in the attack in Iskandiriyah as pilgrims flocked on foot to the holy city of Kerbala for a major religious ceremony.

It was the deadliest attack in Iraq for almost six weeks, since a suicide bomber, initially said to be a woman but later identified as a man, killed 35 people near a Shiite shrine in the Kadhimiyah district of Baghdad on January 4.

Captain Mohammad al-Awadi of the police force for Babil Province, of which Hilla is the capital, said the bomber had hidden her explosives under an abaya, a traditional Muslim head-to-toe black garment for women.

She blew herself up among a crowd of women and children just after midday (0900 GMT), he said, in what was the third straight day of deadly attacks on Shiites heading to Kerbala.

The pilgrims had been eating near a tent in the town of Iskandiriyah set up for refreshments along the 110-kilometer trek south to Kerbala from Baghdad when the bomber struck, the Interior Ministry said.

A doctor at nearby Hilla General Hospital, where dozens of ambulances ferried the casualties, said most of the survivors had head and chest wounds. All 17 dead taken to that hospital were women and children.

The use of female suicide bombers in abayas has become a feared terror tactic in Iraq.

Earlier this month, police announced they had arrested a woman who had confessed to recruiting over 80 such suicide bombers and who helped orchestrate dozens of attacks.

Iskandiriyah lies within what used to be known as “the triangle of death” where Sunni fighters from Al-Qaeda, concealed in date-tree groves, would launch deadly attacks on Shiites who ventured into the mainly farming area.

Last February, a suicide bomber in Iskandiriyah, which lies 40 kilometers south of the capital, killed 43 Shiite pilgrims and wounded over 60 others.

Millions of pilgrims are traveling to Kerbala for Arbaeen, a ritual to mark 40 days after the Ashura anniversary of the killing of Imam Hussein by Sunni caliph Yazid’s armies in AD 680.

Kerbala provincial Governor Akeel al-Khazali told a news conference Friday that 5 million have already arrived in the city, including 110,000 from abroad.

Friday’s attack came a day after eight pilgrims were killed and more than 50 wounded in a bombing near Kerbala’s revered Imam Hussein shrine. An Interior Ministry source said the bomb in a gas pipe was detonated by remote control.

A blast near the same shrine 11 months ago left 43 dead.

On Wednesday, deadly bombings again targeting Shiites near a Baghdad bus station killed 16 people as violence across Iraq claimed at least 27 lives and shattered a relative lull since largely peaceful provincial elections on January 31.

Iraq has experienced a steadily improving security situation in the past year, but the latest attacks have underscored the country’s fragile security.

Shiite pilgrims heading to Kerbala have been targeted and killed by Sunni rebel groups in past years, adding to sectarian bloodshed that has seen hundreds of thousands killed since the US-led invasion of 2003.

On Friday, an Iraqi Army general and his son were found shot dead at their apartment in a mainly Sunni Muslim district of Baghdad on Friday, Interior and Defense ministry officials said.

Source: AFP with Daily Star

Update: The number of dead has risen to 40, with a further 80 wounded. (source: AP)

Aim Islam

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