A coordinated wave of car bombs struck Shia pilgrims in Baghdad and several other cities on Wednesday, killing at least 65 people and wounding more than 200 in one of the deadliest days in Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew from the country.
The bloodshed comes against the backdrop of political divisions that have raised tensions and threatened to provoke violence that once pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war. No one immediately claimed responsibility though they bore the hallmarks of Sunni militants who frequently target Shias.
The blasts were the third this week targeting the annual pilgrimage that sees hundreds of thousands of Shias converge on a golden-domed shrine in Baghdad's northern neighbourhood of Kazimiyah to commemorate the eighth century death of a revered saint Imam Moussa al-Kadhim. The commemoration culminates on Saturday.
Puddles of blood and shards of metal clogged a drainage ditch at the site of one of the bombings in the city of Hillah where, hours before, pilgrims had been marching. Soldiers and dazed onlookers wandered near the charred remains of the car that had exploded and ripped gaping holes in nearby shops.
Most of the 16 explosions targeted Shia pilgrims in five cities; two hit offices of political parties linked to the Kurdish minority in the tense North. Authorities had tightened security ahead of the pilgrimage, including a blockade of the mainly Sunni area of Azamiyah, which is near the twin-domed Shia shrine.
In the Shia town of Balad, 80 km north of Baghdad, two nearly simultaneous car bombs killed seven pilgrims and wounded 34. Explosions also targeted Iraqi Kurds in the north.
One person was killed as three blasts rocked the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk.
Another car bomb targeted an office of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the northern city of Mosul, killing two people and wounding four.