A suicide bomber driving a car has killed at least 27 Shi'ite
Muslims at a bus station in the Iraqi town of Mussayab,
police and medics say, as they were gathering to return home
from a religious rite.
The attack, which also wounded at least 60, underlines
sectarian tensions that threaten to further destabilise the
country a year after U.S. troops left.
Police said the bomber drove into a busy bus station where
pilgrims were catching buses back to Baghdad and the northern
provinces after the Arbain rite in the holy city of Kerbala,
where thousands make an annual pilgrimage.
Mussayab is 60km south of the capital Baghdad.
"I was getting a sandwich when a very strong explosion rocked
the place and the blast threw me away. When I regained my
senses and stood up, I saw dozens of bodies," said Ali
Sabbar, a pilgrim who witnessed the explosion.
"Many cars were set on fire. I just left the place and didn't
even participate in the evacuation of the victims."
Arbain has been a frequent target for militants since the
U.S.-led invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein,
who banned Shi'ite festivals.
A roadside bomb targeting a minibus transporting Shi'ite
pilgrims back from Kerbala also wounded 8 people in New
The latest violence followed nearly two weeks of protests
against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by thousands of
people from the minority Sunni community in the western
province of Anbar, which shares a border with Syria.
The protesters accuse Maliki of being under the sway of
non-Arab Shi'ite neighbour Iran and of marginalising Sunnis,
who dominated Iraq until the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
They want Maliki to abolish anti-terrorism laws they say are
used to persecute them.
The conflict in neighbouring Syria, where a Sunni majority is
fighting to topple government backed by Shi'ite Iran, is also
whipping up sectarian sentiment in Iraq and the wider region.
Although violence is far lower than during the sectarian
slaughter of 2006-2007, a total of 4,471 civilians died last
year in what one rights group described as a "low-level war"
No group claimed responsibility for Thursday's attacks, but
Iraq is home to several Sunni insurgent groups including a
local branch of al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq, which
often targets Shi'ites, seeking to re-ignite sectarian
At least 23 people were killed and 87 wounded in attacks
across Iraq on Monday.