BAGHDAD: A series of bombs tore through crowds of Shia pilgrims celebrating a major ritual across Iraq on Monday, killing at least 32 people, mostly women and children, and wounding scores more, local police and witnesses said.
The attacks, at the height of Ashura, underscored Iraq’s fragile security as the last US troops withdraw from the country by the end of the year.
In the first attack, a car bomb blasted the end of one procession in the city of Hilla, killing 16 mainly women and children, wounding 45 others and leaving bloody pools, shoes and torn clothes scattered across the street, police and witnesses said.
“A powerful and horrible explosion went off behind us, smoke filled the area,” said Hadi al-Mamouri, who was taking part in the ritual. “I could only hear the screams of women and I could only see the bodies of women and children on the street.”
A second attack involving two roadside bombs killed at least six more people at another procession in Hilla and wounded 18 more, police sources said.
“I was shopping nearby, and suddenly a bomb went off as the procession reached the intersection. People were scattered on the ground and everyone started rescuing the injured,” Ammar Hussein, 55, said at the scene of the second blast.
Authorities in Hilla imposed a city-wide ban on cars to help prevent more attacks.
Hilla, 100 km south of Baghdad, is a mainly Shia city on a route used by pilgrims visiting Shia holy sites to the south.
In Baghdad, at least 11 people were killed and 38 more wounded by roadside bombs targeting Shia pilgrims in three different neighbourhoods, police and hospital sources said.
On the outskirts of Baghdad, gunmen using hand grenades attacked Shia pilgrims marching to the holy city of Kerbala, killing two and wounding four in Latifiya, police said.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across Iraq, along with thousands of foreign pilgrims, most dressed in black, streamed into the city of Kerbala to mark Ashura, a ritual in which the faithful beat their heads and chests to mourn the slaying of Imam Hussein at the battle of Kerbala in 680.
Security officials assigned thousands of police officers and soldiers to protect the pilgrims as they headed to Imam Hussein’s shrine in Kerbala. No major violence was reported in Kerbala amid tight security.
Monday’s attacks came as the last 10,000 American troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2011, more than eight years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein and allowed the country’s Shia majority to ascend to power.