Suicide bombers, militant attack kill 41 across Iraq

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Iraqi pilgrims undergo security check at a checkpoint as they walk along the main highway that links the Iraqi capital Baghdad with the central shrine city of Karbala on December 19, 2013, to take part in the Arbaeen religious festival which marks the 40th day after Ashura commemorating the seventh century killing of Prophet Mohammed's grandson, Imam Hussein. (Photo: AFP - Ali al-Saadi)

Published Thursday, December 19, 2013

Updated at 6:45pm: Three suicide bombers detonated explosives belts among pilgrims in Iraq on Thursday, killing at least 41 people, while militants shot dead a family of five, officials said.

One attack on the pilgrims in the Dura area of south Baghdad took place at a tent where they are served food and drinks on their way to the shrine city of Karbala, killing at least 20 people and wounding at least 40, security and medical officials said.

Among those killed in the blast was Muhanad Mohammed, a journalist who had worked for both foreign and Iraqi media, one of his sons told AFP.

He was the seventh journalist to be killed in the country in less than three months.

Two more bombers targeted pilgrims in areas south of Baghdad - one in Yusifiyah, killing eight people and wounding at least 32, and another in Latifiyah, killing at least eight people and wounding at least 18.

At Yarmuk Hospital in Baghdad, wounded people were rushed in on gurneys for treatment, and those injured included children and an old woman whose face was covered in blood.

One distraught man in the lobby of the surgery department repeatedly struck himself in the face with both hands, overcome with grief.

In the street outside, empty wooden coffins were mounted on vehicles, while people cried and screamed over the loss of loved ones.

Hundreds of thousands of people make pilgrimages to Karbala, many of them on foot, during the 40 days after the annual commemoration marking the death of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, known to Shias as Imam Hussein.

The 40th day, known as Arbaeen, falls on December 23 this year.

Militants, including those linked to al-Qaeda, frequently target members of Iraq's Shia majority, whom they consider to be apostates.

The throngs of pilgrims on the roads make for an easy target, and they have been hit by a series of attacks in recent days.

On Wednesday, a suicide bomber targeted Shia pilgrims in Khales, north of Baghdad, killing five people and wounding 10.

The toll would likely have been higher were it not for the selfless actions of a policeman who embraced the bomber just before the attack, in an effort to shield others from the blast.

On Tuesday, two attacks against pilgrims in and near Baghdad killed at least eight people, and on Monday two car bombs targeting pilgrims south of the capital killed at least 24 people.

Also on Thursday, militants dressed in army uniforms attacked the house of an anti-al-Qaeda militiaman in the Abu Ghraib area, west of Baghdad, killing him, his wife and their three children.

The Sahwa militia are made up of tribesmen who joined forces with the United States from late 2006, helping to bring about a significant reduction in violence.

They are frequently targeted by militants who consider them traitors.

Violence in Iraq has surged this year to levels not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal conflict.

More people were killed in the first eight days of this month than in all of December last year.

And more than 6,550 people have been killed since the beginning of 2013, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)


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