Bombings and shootings targeting Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims in Baghdad and police across Iraq killed at least 53 people on Wednesday in apparently coordinated attacks during a major religious festival.
The death toll was expected to rise in the attacks, which included car bombs that tore into Shiite religious processions at four different locations across Baghdad. It was the third attack in the capital this week targeting the annual pilgrimage commemorating the 8th century death of a revered imam. Police officers said the first bomb struck pilgrims in a procession at around 5 a.m. in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Taji. Within hours, three more explosions hit other processions in different parts of the Iraqi capital.
Meanwhile, in the city of Hillah, 95 kilometers south of Baghdad, two car bombs exploded minutes apart at dawn in the center of town. In the nearby city of Karbala, a parked car exploded near another group of Shiite pilgrims. And north of Baghdad, the town of Balad was hit by simultaneous car bombs.
The attacks came as pilgrims began to make their way to Baghdad for commemorations marking the 8th century death of Moussa al-Kadhim, an important figure in Shiite history, who is said to be buried in a shrine there. The attacks were launched against the backdrop of a prolonged sectarian-based political crisis between Shiite and Sunni Muslims that some fear is opening the door to renewed violence.