Iraq: Blasts kill 14 Shia pilgrims in Karbala and Najaf

Media caption,
Police say the target for the blast in Karbala was a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims

Two bombings in Iraq's holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf have killed at least 14 people, officials say.

Shia pilgrims were apparently targeted in the first blast in Karbala, south of Baghdad, which killed seven people.

Hours later, an explosion in the nearby city of Najaf killed at least seven more. Iranian pilgrims were among those killed and injured in the blasts.

Suspected Sunni militants have in the past bombed Shia pilgrims with the aim of fomenting sectarian strife in Iraq.

The attacks came as Iraq's top political leaders met publicly for the first time with the aim of ending a protracted crisis over forming a new government.

Iraq has been without a government for eight months after inconclusive general elections in March.

Deadly blasts

The car bomb in Karbala killed at least seven people and wounded more than 30, officials said.

Image caption,
Reports said three vehicles carrying Shia pilgrims were targeted in Najaf

Police said the target for the blast was a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims. The blast went off just 150 metres from the shrine of the Imam Hussein, one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam.

Hours later, a suspected suicide bomber blew himself up near another shrine in the nearby city of Najaf, killing at least seven people, police and hospital officials said.

Both cities, places of Shia pilgrimage, have frequently been the target of bomb attacks, most recently in July and August, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad.

The holy places draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over Iraq and from neighbouring Iran every year.

Pilgrims on the routes to the holy places have also often been attacked by bombers, who are believed to be Sunni militants.

Last week about a dozen co-ordinated bombs targeted Shia districts across the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, killing more than 60 people and wounding hundreds.

Those attacks came two days after at least 52 people were killed as police stormed a church in Baghdad where hostages were being held.

Analysts said of the previous attacks that the spike in violence could be a last-ditch attempt by al-Qaeda to exploit the political vacuum in the country.

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