Suicide Bomber Kills Dozens of Shiite Pilgrims in Iraq

By Saad Sarhan and Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 14, 2009

NAJAF, Iraq, Feb. 13 -- A woman wearing a vest rigged with explosives killed at least 35 Shiite pilgrims Friday morning at a checkpoint south of Baghdad, authorities said, the third such attack in as many days.

The bombing targeted Shiites en route to Karbala, a holy city in southern Iraq that attracts millions of pilgrims this time of year. It was the deadliest attack in Iraq this year and renewed fears of a resurgence of sectarian bloodshed, despite a broad reduction in violence in most of the country.

The woman detonated the explosives shortly before noon inside a tent set up by local police to search female pilgrims in Musayyib, a village 35 miles south of Baghdad.

At least 67 people, mostly women and children, were wounded in the blast, said Capt. Muthana Ahmad, a spokesman for the Babil province police. He said the death toll is expected to rise.

Shortly after the explosion, at least 30 bodies arrived at the main hospital in Musayyib, which lies along the primary route between Baghdad and Karbala.

Safaudeen Ali, 28, was serving tea to women and children when the explosion occurred. The blast destroyed the tent and left a thick cloud of dust and smoke.

"I was struck in the back and upper arm," he said. "As soon as I regained consciousness, I realized that there were many people screaming for help."

Victims were taken to Musayyib General Hospital and two nearby clinics. The explosives were packed with nails, ball bearings and stones, authorities said.

"Most of the dead and wounded were brought here," said Abdul Hussein Hadi, the hospital's director. "The doctors are doing their best to save the injured; we have performed more than 15 surgeries."

Millions of Shiites make a yearly pilgrimage to Karbala at the end of a 40-day period of mourning commemorating the death of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered figures in Shiite Islam.

Attacks against Shiite pilgrims in 2006 and 2007 during the pilgrimage, known as Arbaeen, fueled the sectarian animosity that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Western and Iraqi officials have condemned the recent attacks against Shiite pilgrims, calling them an attempt by insurgents to stoke sectarian hatred.

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