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Mortar attacks kill 41 Shiite pilgrims in Iraq

More than one million pilgrims throng Karbala

Published:

A mortar bomb attack on the last day of a major mourning ceremony in Iraq killed 41 Shiite pilgrims and wounded more than 144 others on Friday in an atrocity blamed on al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein loyalists.

The bomb struck pilgrims who were leaving the holy shrine city of Karbala, 110 kilometers (68 miles) south of Baghdad, where more than a million devotees had gathered to mark the festival of Arbaeen.

It was the third major attack this week on worshippers who have for weeks been travelling there on foot for the climax of the event earlier on Friday.

A provincial health ministry official earlier gave the death toll and said 150 others were wounded.

"A mortar round was launched from fields northeast of the city," provincial governor Amalheddin al-Hir told AFP.

"I accuse al-Qaeda who are being supported by the Baath party," he said, referring to Saddam's outlawed political movement.

Arbaeen marks 40 days after the Ashura anniversary commemorating the slaying of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), in 680 AD.

A series of suicide attacks have seen dozens of pilgrims killed in recent days.

Hir said earlier that 10 million worshippers had visited the Imam Hussein shrine in the past two weeks, walking as a sign of piety, with the ceremonies culminating at midday (0900 GMT) on Friday.

"The visitors included Arabs and about 100,000 foreigners from the Gulf states, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Tanzania, the United States, Norway and Belgium," Hir said.

The visitors included Arabs and about 100,000 foreigners from the Gulf states, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Tanzania, the United States, Norway and Belgium

Karbala governor Amalheddin al-Hir

Intensive security

Television pictures showed crowds massed near the shrine stretching into the far distance and carrying flags adorned with Imam Hussein's image.

Around 30,000 police and soldiers were on duty in the holy city, following the recent spate of attacks.

"I travelled all this distance to tell terrorists that their actions will not stop us from visiting Imam Hussein," Jaber al-Temimi, an Iranian who arrived three days ago after walking from the border, told AFP earlier.

On Monday, a female suicide bomber blew herself up among a crowd of Shiite pilgrims near Baghdad, killing 41 people including women and children, and wounding more than 100.

She detonated an explosives-filled belt as devotees lined up for security checks at one of the many food and rest stations set up on the route to Karbala.

Defense ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari said the woman bomber came from Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, that has in the past been a stronghold of al-Qaeda which still has a local presence.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office blamed the Baath party of executed dictator Saddam Hussein for that attack.

"We hold Baathists and their Takfiri allies responsible for this massacre," it said.

Takfiri is a term used by the Iraqi government to refer to al-Qaeda members.

I travelled all this distance to tell terrorists that their actions will not stop us from visiting Imam Hussein,"

Jaber al-Temimi, an Iranian pilgrim