Iraq bombings kill 43 in Karbala

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A double bombing Friday in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 140 others as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims commemorated a major Shiite Muslim holy day.

The attack took place at the eastern entrance to the city as pilgrims from across the country were leaving after the religious observance in the city center.

First, a car bomb exploded near a tent set up to offer refreshments, police said. Moments later a suicide bomber plowed a car into the area.

It was the third major attack against Shiite pilgrims this week, and coincided with a sharp escalation in violence before crucial national elections in March.

More than 70 pilgrims died in two suicide bombings this week as they headed for Karbala to mark the Arbaeen, or 40th day of mourning for Imam Hussein, who was a grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

Eight suicide bombings have hit Iraq in the last 11 days, targeting hotels and government offices as well as pilgrims, in a sign that the Sunni Arab insurgency appears to be regrouping.

U.S. officials blame the group Al Qaeda in Iraq for most of the suicide attacks, but the Iraqi government also accuses members of the now-outlawed Baath Party, which ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

The start of the election campaign has been delayed by a dispute over whether hundreds of candidates who allegedly had ties to the Baath Party may participate, sharply escalating sectarian tensions.