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 came 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 Friday killed at least 25 people and wounded around 100 more.
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.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday’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.
The twin blasts came at the height of the pilgrimage to observe 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 suspected Sunni militants. In each of the past two years, attacks during the ceremonies killed around 60 pilgrims, down from the more than 340 killed in 2007.