Suicide bomber kills 53 in pilgrim attack

2012-01-14 19:29

Basra - A suicide bomber killed 53 people in an apparent sectarian attack in southern Iraq on Saturday, casting a pall over the conclusion of a Shiite Muslim pilgrimage that draws millions.

The attack on devotees on the outskirts of Basra, which left 137 wounded, came with Iraq mired in a political row pitting the Shi'ite-led government against the main Sunni-backed bloc and stoked sectarian tensions less than a month after US forces completed their pullout.

The violence was the latest in a spate of attacks against Shi'ite pilgrims in the two weeks leading to the conclusion of Arbaeen, which marks 40 days after the Ashura anniversary commemorating the slaying of Imam Hussein, one of Shi'ite Islam's most revered figures, by the armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD.

The death toll was the highest since attacks on Shi'ites in Baghdad and southern Iraq killed 70 people on December 5, and the deadliest single attack in the country since March 2011.

The attacker, who had been distributing cake and other food to pilgrims walking to the Khutwa Imam Ali, a site on the outskirts of Basra venerated by believers for its associations with a key figures of their faith, blew himself up near a security checkpoint.

"I saw a soldier take hold of the attacker to take him to the officer in charge," said Kadhim Nasser, who ran a nearby rest stop for pilgrims. "As he was pushing him, something happened and the soldier fell to the ground."

"Immediately, he blew himself up. When he did that, women and children were passing by. I saw dozens of women and children among the wounded," the 42-year-old added.

Pilgrims in southern Iraq who cannot visit the central shrine city of Karbala to mark Arbaeen typically make the shorter trip to Khutwa Imam Ali, which lies around 12km west of Basra.

Hundreds of thousands did make it to Karbala on Saturday amid massive security in face of the Sunni insurgent threat.

Officials said 15 million pilgrims have passed through the city in the past two weeks leading up to the end of the commemorations, including about 500 000 from outside Iraq.

About 35 000 police and troops were deployed to provide security throughout the rituals, with a further two brigades added to protect pilgrims heading home, said Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanimi, who commands forces across central Iraq.

He said no incidents had been reported in Karbala.


- SAPA
Read more on:    iraq
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