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U.S./World

2 blasts in Iraq kill 40 pilgrims

| Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010

BAGHDAD -- A car bomb ripped through a crowd of Shiite pilgrims outside the holy city of Karbala on Friday, sending many fleeing into the path of a suicide attacker who detonated a second bomb in coordinated blasts that killed at least 40 people and wounded 150.

The twin bombing occurred on the final day of an annual Shiite religious observance, which has been the target of three large-scale attacks in Iraq this week alone. In Pakistan, two bombs targeting Shiites observing the same holy day yesterday killed dozens of people and wounded around 100.

The bloodshed in Iraq is likely to further stoke tensions between the Shiite-led government and Sunnis over the push to ban some candidates from March 7 parliamentary elections. The United States is concerned the ban could destabilize Iraq, crippling efforts to reconcile majority Shiites and Sunnis who dominated Iraq until Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for yesterday's blasts, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed al-Qaida and Saddam loyalists, saying in a statement the two groups failed to ignite sectarian strife and destabilize the country with the attacks on pilgrims.

Shortly after noon, a parked car bomb exploded on a road clogged with pilgrims 6 miles east of one of three main entrances to the holy city of Karbala, two health ministry officials said. The explosion sent throngs of pilgrims running down the highway and straight into the path of a suicide car bomber, who detonated a second vehicle, they said.

At least 154 people were wounded in the consecutive blasts, the officials said.

An Iraqi police official gave a different version of events, saying two mortar rounds struck the area, driving pilgrims into the path of the suicide car bomber. Such conflicting accounts are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings in Iraq.

The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The twin blasts occurred at the height of the pilgrimage when roads around Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, were clogged with people trying to reach the city to observe the climax of Arbaeen -- the holy day marking the end of 40 days of mourning that follow the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure.

The number of Shiites -- estimated in the millions -- makes the annual observance a prime target for Sunni militants. In each of the past two years, attacks during the ceremonies killed about 60 pilgrims, down from the more than 340 killed in 2007.

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