Baghdad, Jan 24 (AP) Two car bombs today struck Shiitepilgrims in an Iraqi holy city, killing at least 18 people ascrowds massed for religious rituals marking the end of a40-day mourning period for the Islamic sect''s most belovedsaint.
The blasts in Karbala were the latest in nearly a weekof attacks that have killed at least 159 people. The uptick inviolence has shattered a lengthy period of calm and raisedanew concerns about the readiness of Iraqi forces to take overtheir own security ahead of a full withdrawal by the USmilitary.
The first attack occurred about 7 am in a parking lotnear busloads of pilgrims on the eastern outskirts of Karbala,90 kilometres south of Baghdad. Police and hospital officialssaid that six pilgrims were killed and 34 people wounded inthat attack.
A second bomb was discovered nearby and dismantledbefore it could explode, police said.
More than four hours later, a second car bomb struckpilgrims on the southern edge of the city, killing at least 12people, including 10 pilgrims and two soldiers, and wounding21, the officials said.
There is a vehicle ban in Karbala for the holy periodso pilgrims are dropped off at parking lots and walk in.
The police and hospital officials spoke on conditionof anonymity because they were not authorised to release theinformation.
Today''s attacks followed a triple suicide bombing lastweek along two highways leading to Karbala that killed 56 andwounded at least 180 - most of them Shiite pilgrims.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are gathering inKarbala for today''s ceremonies marking the end of Arbaeen, a40-day mourning period to observe the seventh century death ofthe Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad''s grandson.
His death in battle near Karbala sealed Islam''shistoric Sunni-Shiite split - the ancient divide that providedthe backdrop for the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq after the2003 US-led war.
No group claimed responsibility for today''s blast, butcar bombs and suicide attacks are the trademark of al-Qaida inIraq and other Sunni religious extremists.
Those groups have frequently targeted Shiites in a bitto re-ignite sectarian violence that pushed the country to thebrink of civil war.
Since the end of Saddam''s rule, Shiite politicianshave encouraged huge turnouts at religious rituals, which werebanned under the former regime, as a demonstration of Shiitepower. (AP)