A suicide bomber attacked a crowd of Shiite Muslim pilgrims in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad on Wednesday night, killing at least 33 people and wounding 108, according to police.
The attack on the eve of the anniversary of the death of Imam Musa Kadhim, a Shiite saint, came as the country’s political parties continued to bicker over the shape of the next government four months after national elections. The violence suggested that despite several setbacks to Al Qaeda in Iraq in recent months, militant groups are still capable of bloody and devastating attacks.
At least seven other explosions targeted Shiite pilgrims and Iraqi security forces in Iraq on Wednesday, leaving an additional 40 people wounded. Earlier in the day, insurgents dynamited the homes of two policemen as well as a third home in Abu Ghraib on the outskirts of Baghdad, killing at least two people. In the city of Fallouja, two police officers were shot to death at a checkpoint, police said.
The bombing in Adhamiya, a Baghdad district once associated with the country’s Sunni insurgency, jolted what had been a tranquil day and night during which thousands of pilgrims crossed over the Tigris River to the Imam Kadhim shrine in the nearby Kadhimiya district.
The blast provoked minor scuffles between the Shiite-led Iraqi security forces and a few Sunni residents. However, there were also signs of unity in an area of the city that had once been a front line in the country’s sectarian war. Within minutes of the bombing, Sunnis ran to help evacuate the wounded. When the authorities barred people from crossing the nearby bridge to Kadhimiya, residents offered shelter to the visiting pilgrims.
Firas Ahmed said he rushed over in the minutes after the blast and described seeing between 40 and 50 women and children on the ground. Locals started to pick up the dead and wounded and offered refreshments to survivors, he added. Another man said residents started washing pilgrims’ wounds on the street.
One woman, who survived the attack and could not find her sons, shouted, “Whoever did this is trying to inflame the situation between Shiites and Sunnis.” Others expressed anger at the government for not protecting them.
The bombing injured residents as well. Mohammed Yasin said he had been helping an older woman walk when the explosion knocked them both to the ground.
More than 2 million people are expected visit the Imam Kadhim shrine this week and hundreds of thousands of security personnel have been deployed to prevent attacks.
The bombing occurred five years after a stampede on the bridge between Kadhimiya and Adhamiya during the Imam Kadhim holiday left more than 900 people dead. At that time, pilgrims panicked when mortar rounds exploded nearby and rumors spread that a suicide bomber was on the crowded span.
Hamid is a staff writer in The Times’ Baghdad Bureau.