Bombers Massacre Shiite Pilgrims in Iraq

The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 7, 2007; 1:47 AM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Two suicide bombers turned a procession of Shiite pilgrims into a blood-drenched stampede Tuesday, killing scores with a first blast and then claiming more lives among fleeing crowds. At least 114 were killed amid a wave of deadly strikes against Shiites heading for a solemn religious ritual.

Attacks on Shiite pilgrims continued Wednesday, when a bomb exploded alongside pilgrims in Dora, a mostly Sunni neighborhood of southern Baghdad. Immediately after the blast, gunmen moved in and fired on the pilgrims, police said. At least seven people were killed.

Hours after Tuesday's attack in Hillah _ in the Shiite heartland south of Baghdad _ boys used long-handled squeegees to push pools of blood off the road. The victims' shoes and sandals were gathered in haphazard piles.

"In an instant, bodies were set ablaze, people were running and the ground was mixed with teapots, kettles and other supplies for pilgrims," said Mahdi Kadim, one of the survivors.

But there was also a louder message in Tuesday's carnage that left at least 138 pilgrims dead throughout Iraq: U.S.-backed authorities remain virtually powerless to stop suspected Sunni insurgents trying to push Iraq toward a sectarian civil war.

U.S. forces, too, continue to tally losses at the hands of extremists despite signs of more successful raids against bases and weapon stockpiles. The military said nine soldiers were killed Monday in two separate roadside bombings north of Baghdad, making it the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Iraq in nearly a month.

"A brutal massacre against people who are only practicing their faith" was how Shiite lawmaker Sami al-Askari described the Hillah attacks, which wounded at least 151 people.

Dr. Mohammed al-Temimi, at Hillah's main hospital, said some of the injuries were critical and the death toll of 114 could rise.

The Hillah strike came after gunmen and bombers hit group after group of Shiite pilgrims elsewhere _ some in buses and others making the traditional trek on foot to the shrine city of Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad. At least 24 were killed in those attacks, including four relatives of a prominent Shiite lawmaker, Mohammed Mahdi al-Bayati.

This weekend, huge crowds of Shiite worshippers will gather for rites marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Hussein died near Karbala in a 7th-century battle.

In Hillah, southeast of Karbala, a long line of pilgrims marched toward a bridge checkpoint on the edge of the city. Food and cool drinks were distributed at nearby tents.

The first suicide bomber killed dozens and touched off a mad dash away from the bridge, said witness Salim Mohammed Ali Abbas. As the fleeing crowd grew thicker, another suicide bomber among them blew himself apart. An Associated Press cameraman at the scene said ambulances and Iraqi police swarmed the area.

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