Shiite pilgrimage in Baghdad reaches climax

Image: Shi'ite pilgrims
Shiite pilgrims return to their homes after a visit to the Imam Moussa al-Kadhim shrine in Baghdad on Tuesday.Kareem Raheem / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims gathered around a golden-domed shrine in a massive religious assembly in Baghdad on Tuesday, a day after three female suicide bombers struck their procession and killed 32 people.

The black-clad pilgrims streamed toward the shrine of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim in the northern neighborhood of Kazimiyah, where police set up checkpoints and searched them.

Authorities have imposed a vehicle ban in the city and deployed tens of thousands of policemen in the streets in fear of further violence during Tuesday's pilgrimage.

New offensive
Meanwhile, a major military operation got under way Tuesday in the volatile Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, the Iraqi military said.

Gen. Ali Ghaidan said the operation is aimed at clearing al-Qaida in Iraq militants from what's considered the last major insurgent stronghold near the capital.

The pilgrims on Monday were attacked by suicide bombers in quick succession in central Baghdad as they marched toward the shrine of the eighth-century imam. The bombings undermined public confidence in recent security gains that have tamped down sectarian bloodshed.

Insurgents increasingly use female bombers because their billowing, black robes easily hide explosives and they are less likely to be searched. U.S. military figures show at least 27 female suicide bombings this year, compared with eight in 2007.

Another suicide bombing on Monday killed 25 people during a rally in Kirkuk, 180 miles to the north, where Kurds were protesting a draft provincial elections law that would give them less power in Kirkuk.

The U.S. military on Tuesday blamed al-Qaida in Iraq for the Baghdad and Kirkuk bombings.

Protests from Kurdish parties
Kurdish political parties on Tuesday staged a protest in the nearby city of Irbil to denounce the attack in Kirkuk.

Kurdish objections over a proposed power-sharing formula have blocked the law from being passed — a move that could delay the nationwide voting until next year. Kirkuk is home to Kurds, Turkomen, Arabs and other minorities.

After the explosion in Kirkuk, dozens of angry Kurds stormed the offices of a Turkomen political party that opposes Kurdish claims on Kirkuk, opening fire and burning cars amid accusations that their rivals were to blame. No casualties were reported.

Shiites en route to Kazimiyah have been attacked in past years by gunmen in Sunni areas south of Baghdad. Since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, who was a Sunni, Shiite political parties have encouraged huge turnouts at religious festivals to display the majority sect's power in Iraq.