Iraqis inspect the site of a car bombing in Baghdad. Since last Tuesday,… (Shehab Ahmed, EPA )
Reporting from Baghdad — Two car bombs exploded Monday near Karbala as Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority visited the shrine city for a major religious holiday, security and medical officials said. The blasts killed at least 22 people.
The bombs went off as thousands of pilgrims marched into Karbala to mark Arbaeen, the end of the 40-day mourning period for the Shiite religious figure Imam Hussein, whose 7th century death in battle cemented Islam's Shiite-Sunni schism. It was the second major attack in the religious city since Thursday, when a pair of bombs killed 56 people and wounded 189.
On Monday, the first bomb went off in a car parked south of the city, close to one of Thursday's blast sites, killing at least eight people and wounding 35. The second bomb went off east of the city, killing at least 14 and wounding at least 40, officials said.
Mohammed Tnayish, 45, was walking with his wife when the second blast occurred.
"Many charred bodies were there — women, children and men. It was so sad and horrible. Blood was everywhere," the farmer said. "It's so frustrating to have car bombs every few days against Imam Hussein pilgrims. Where are the security forces? They should have better measures and intelligence to prevent such terrorist acts."
At least 151 people have died in bombings since last Tuesday, when a suicide attacker struck a crowd of police recruits in Tikrit, killing 60 people.
The recent violence brought an end to a relative lull in suicide attacks and car bombings that began the second week of November, when Iraqi politicians struck a deal to form a new government after months of stalemate.
It was unclear whether the latest violence meant that armed groups had discovered a newfound ability to carry out major attacks on a near-daily basis or that groups were simply taking advantage of an easier and more visible target: the large number of Shiite faithful marching to Karbala.
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and rival Iyad Allawi have yet to agree on the new government's defense and interior ministers. That delay, along with the increase in violence, has raised concerns about security.
"Of course these kind of explosions and infiltration will continue, for many reasons," Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman told The Times last week. "First is the delay in appointing new security ministers. Second is that it has been obvious that there are … security leaks in the police and army."
Iraqi officials are also worried that the violence is part of a campaign to sabotage the Arab League summit, scheduled for March 23 in Baghdad, which Iraq hopes will mark the Sunni Arab world's full acceptance of the country. Iraq has been kept mostly at a distance by neighboring Arab states since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country.
Jaff is a member of The Times' Baghdad Bureau.