A suicide attacker and twin-bomb blasts yesterday targeted Shiites marking a sombre religious ritual in Iraq, killing at least 41 people and wounding more than 100, officials said.
The ritual, known as Ashura, is observed every year over a 10-day period and has been marred previously by massive attacks by al-Qaida and other Sunni extremists who see Shiites as heretics. This year, the attacks come amid an escalating campaign of violence by insurgents seeking to thwart the Shiite-led government's efforts to maintain security.
The deadliest of yesterday's attacks was in the town of al-Saadiyah, 140 kilometres (90 miles) northeast of Baghdad, where a suicide bomber struck a group of Shiites gathered for an Ashura event. The explosion killed at least 32 people and wounded 75, two police officers said.
The Shiites at the Saadiyah gathering were recreating the seventh-century battle of Karbala, a city in present-day Iraq. Ashura commemorates the death of Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, in that battle.
Earlier yesterday, two bombs exploded simultaneously near tents set up to offer food and drinks to Shiite pilgrims passing through Hafriyah, a town about 50 kilometres (32 miles) south of the Iraqi capital, another police officer said.
The Shiites were making their way on foot to Hussein's gold-domed shrine in Karbala, some 90 kilometres (55 miles) south of Baghdad, where authorities said more than two million pilgrims were expected to converge.