Wave of Attacks on Shia Pilgrims Kill 23 in Iraq

BAGHDAD — Insurgents launched a wave of attacks across Iraq on Monday, primarily targeting Shia pilgrims and killing at least 23 people, officials said.

The attacks appeared aimed at undermining security and confidence in the government by fomenting sectarian conflict. Overall violence has dropped since the nation neared a civil war several years ago, but attacks of a sectarian nature come almost daily, and government forces seem powerless to prevent them.

The deadliest blasts on Monday were in the town of Musayyib, about 60 kilometers south of the capital, where militants planted bombs around two houses. Two women, two children and three men were killed in the pre-dawn explosions, a police officer said.

In Baghdad's Shia neighborhood of Karrada, a parked car bomb went off next to a tent for Shia pilgrims making their way to the holy city of Karbala to mark the seventh century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, a police officer said. Five were killed and 25 wounded, he said.

The explosion rattled nearby buildings and sent a thick plume of black smoke billowing into the air. Ambulances and police rushed to the scene in the busy downtown shopping district, and several helicopters hovered above.

That came hours after a parked car bomb exploded in a busy street in the city of Hillah where local government offices are located, killing three people and wounding 21, another police officer said. He said some Shia pilgrims were among the casualties, but he didn't say how many. Hillah is about 95 kilometers  south of Baghdad.

Two other Shia pilgrims were killed and 16 wounded in the town of Khalis, 80 kilometers north of Baghdad, when two bombs exploded simultaneously, another police officer said. In the town of Latifiyah, about 30 kilometers of Baghdad, one pilgrim was killed and 11 wounded when two mortar rounds exploded nearby, another police officer said.

Although violence has ebbed since the height of the insurgency in the past, some groups presumed to be primarily Sunni extremists are still able to launch deadly attacks nationwide against government officials or civilians.

Shia pilgrims are one of their favorite targets. Each year, hundreds of thousands converge in Karbala where the Imam Hussein is buried. Many travel on foot, and the mass gatherings are frequently attacked, despite tight security.

19 pilgrims killed in Pakistan 

As many as 19 people, including four women, were killed and 25 injured Sunday when a militant rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a convoy of three buses carrying Shia pilgrims in Pakistan's Balochistan province, Geo News reported.

The incident took place in Mastung district when the buses were taking pilgrims from the province's Taftan town to Quetta city. All the pilgrims were from Multan city and on their way to Iran via Quetta.

One of the buses, carrying 43 passengers, was completely gutted, while another was partially damaged in the targeted attack, when the attacker rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into the bus, killing 19 pilgrims and injuring 25 others, said Mastung Deputy Commissioner Tufail Baloch.

According to one of the bus drivers, the vehicles caught fire following the blast. One bus was completely destroyed while another was partially damaged. The third vehicle was unaffected in the incident.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has strongly condemned the attack, reports Xinhua.

No group had so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

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