Three suicide bomb attacks target Shia pilgrims in Iraq

Iraqi police check pilgrims in the Dora district of Baghdad (19 December 2013) Shia pilgrims like those in Dora on Thursday have been targeted frequently by Sunni extremists

Three suicide bomb attacks targeting Shia pilgrims travelling to the Iraqi city of Karbala for a religious event have killed at least 29 people.

The attackers struck in the capital Baghdad and in two sites to the south.

Meanwhile, gunmen wearing military uniforms shot dead a family of five in Baghdad's western suburb of Abu Ghraib.

Sectarian violence has surged across Iraq this year. More than 8,000 people have been killed since January, the highest annual toll since 2008.

The UN says the overall death toll in November was 659, including 565 civilians and 94 members of the Iraqi security forces, compared with 979 in October.

'Heretics'

The Baghdad attack took place in the southern district of Dora; a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt as pilgrims had gathered at a tent for refreshments. Fourteen people were killed and 28 were wounded, police said.

A further eight people were killed and 28 wounded when a suicide attacker blew himself up among pilgrims in Youssifiyah, some 20km (12 miles) south of Baghdad, shortly after sunset, the Associated Press quotes officials as saying.

A third suicide bomber detonated explosives in the town of Latifiyah, some 30km (20 miles) south of Baghdad, killing at least seven people and wounding 25.

The pilgrims were heading to the holy city of Karbala for Arbaeen, which marks the end of the 40 days of mourning for the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Hussein.

Shia pilgrims are frequent targets of Sunni militants who consider them to be heretics.

In Baghdad, gunmen broke into the home of a former member of a Sahwa, or Awakening Council - a Sunni militia set up to combat al-Qaeda - killing him, his wife and at least two of their children. There were conflicting reports about whether the fifth victim was another child or the wife's brother.

The UN has called on Iraq's political leaders to co-operate to end the bloodshed, which has escalated since an army raid on a Sunni Arab anti-government protest camp in April 2013.

Iraq civilian deaths since 2008

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