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Updated: January 24, 2011 22:27 IST

18 killed in Iraq car bomb blasts

AP
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Shiite pilgrims are seen in Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq, on Sunday, as the faithful flock to the holy city for Arbaeen, marking the end of the 40-day mourning period after the anniversary of the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson. Photo: AP.
Shiite pilgrims are seen in Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq, on Sunday, as the faithful flock to the holy city for Arbaeen, marking the end of the 40-day mourning period after the anniversary of the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson. Photo: AP.

Two car bombs on Monday struck Shia pilgrims in an Iraqi holy city, killing at least 18 people as pilgrims massed for religious rituals marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for the Islamic sect's most beloved saint.

The blasts in Karbala were the latest in nearly a week of attacks that have killed at least 159 people. The uptick in violence has shattered a lengthy period of calm and raised anew concerns about the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over their own security ahead of a full withdrawal by the U.S. military.

The first attack occurred about 7 a.m. in a parking lot near busloads of pilgrims on the eastern outskirts of Karbala, 90 km south of Baghdad. Police and hospital officials said that six pilgrims were killed and 34 people wounded in that attack. A second bomb was discovered nearby and dismantled, police said.

More than four hours later, a second car bomb struck pilgrims on the southern edge , killing at least 12 people, including 10 pilgrims and two soldiers, and wounding 21.

Monday's attacks followed a triple suicide bombing last week along two highways leading to Karbala that killed 56 and wounded at least 180 — most of them Shia pilgrims.

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