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Iraq bombing kills at least 20 as pilgrims converge on Karbala

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By Leila Fadel and Qais Mizher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 3, 2010; 10:29 AM

BAGHDAD -- At least 20 people were killed and 117 were wounded Wednesday in an explosion just outside the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, despite increased security measures put in place during religious ceremonies this week.

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The bombing was the second deadly attack on Shiite pilgrims in three days. On Monday, at least 41 people were killed in northeast Baghdad when a female suicide bomber detonated her explosives in a crowd of devout, Karbala-bound Shiites.

They were among hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who were walking to Karbala this week to commemorate the 7th-century slaying of the grandson of the prophet Muhammad. The pilgrims converge on the city, where Shiites believe the prophet's grandson is buried, to mark the 40th day of mourning after the anniversary of his death.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, a parked motorcycle loaded with explosives detonated, ripping through a crowd of walking pilgrims on the city's northeast perimeter, a source from the Ministry of the Interior in Baghdad said. At least 20 people were killed and 117 were wounded.

The scene of the carnage, near the Technical Institute, remained blocked off Wednesday afternoon. Vehicles were stopped on the outskirts of the city and pilgrims walked the rest of the way.

Shiite religious ceremonies have long been the target of attacks by militants whose intent seems to be to widen the sectarian rift in Iraq. But the city of Karbala has largely been unscathed in the past few years.

Wednesday's bombings follow a rare attack in the holy city of Najaf last month, and a small recent bombing in a restaurant near a holy Shiite shrine in Samarra. If the resurgence of bloody attacks on Shiite targets continue, the schism between sects could widen, opening the door for Shiite militants to strike back.

Special correspondent Saad Sarhan contributed to this report from Karbala.

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