Iraqi police: Attacks kill 28 Shiite pilgrims

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 5, 2010; 12:03 PM

BAGHDAD -- Two attacks on Shiite pilgrims returning from the holy city of Karbala left at least 28 people dead Friday, the latest in a series of bombings that appear designed to discredit Iraqi security forces and inflame sectarian tension.

The deadliest attack was a bomb near Hindia, a village northeast of Karbala, which is south of Baghdad.

Iraqi police officials said a suicide bomber in a vehicle killed at least 27 people and wounded at least 75. Investigators were trying to determine whether there were one or two explosions.

Karbala Gov. Amal-Din al-Hir said in a televised news conference that the attack in Hindia was carried out with mortars, rather than a car bomb. It was not immediately clear which account was accurate.

Later, in Dora, a mostly Sunni southwestern neighborhood in the capital, a small bomb inside a bus transporting Shiite pilgrims back from Karbala killed one person and wounded 15, Iraqi police officials said.

Friday's attack marred the culmination of Arbaeen, the climax of a 40-day mourning period observing the death of the slain grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

Millions of devout Shiites travel to Karbala this time of year to pay their respects at the main shrine in the city, where the revered Shiite figure is believed to be buried.

The climax of the religious period was Thursday night, when droves of pilgrims pounded their chests to the rhythm of beating drums and mourning chants outside the shrine.

Attacks targeting pilgrims on Monday and Wednesday killed at least 61 people. Iraqi and U.S. officials said insurgents appear to be attacking pilgrims in an effort to discredit the Iraqi government and widen the sectarian rift.

Mass casualty attacks that killed thousands of Shiites between 2004 and 2007 led Shiite militias to strike back at Sunnis. They contributed to a sectarian war that displaced millions and drove Iraq to the brink of anarchy.

Special correspondents Qais Mizher and Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.

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