A female suicide bomber blew herself up among a crowd of Shiite pilgrims on their way by foot to a shrine city in central Iraq today, killing 41 people, including women and children, officials said. The attack took place while the pilgrims had stopped at a rest station as they made their long journey to Karbala, 110 kilometres (68 miles) south of the Iraqi capital, for a religious festival. "At 11.45am (8.45am GMT), a woman wearing an explosives-filled belt blew herself up in the middle of a crowd of pilgrims going to Karbala," said Major General Qassim Atta, a spokesman for Baghdad operational command.
An interior ministry official gave the toll and said the wounded were being treated at five hospitals in Baghdad. A medical official said initial reports indicated that five women and six children were among the dead. The victims had been travelling on foot from the central province of Diyala and had stopped at a food tent set up for pilgrims heading for Karbala to observe Arbaeen rituals. Arbaeen marks 40 days after the Ashura anniversary that commemorates the killing of revered 7th century Imam Hussein, whose shrine is considered one of the holiest places of Shiite Islam.
Tens of thousands of Shiites, including many from neighbouring Iran, make their way at Arbaeen to pay homage at the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala, walking as a sign of greater piety. The culmination of Arbaeen is on Friday and pilgrims have for days been seen at roadsides around Baghdad as they make their journeys south. *AFP