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Spate of Suicide Blasts Rock Iraq


Men grieve after a bombing in Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. A pair of bombs blasted through security checkpoints ringing the Iraqi holy city of Karbala Thursday and killed scores, most of whom were Shiite pilgrims headed to observe yearly religious rituals. (AP Photo/Ahmed al-Husseini)

A spate of explosions across Iraq has killed at least 50 people, most
of them in twin suicide car bombings in the holy city of Karbala, the
third major attack in as many days.

Thursday's attacks mostly targeted pilgrims marking the
Shi'ite Muslim mourning day of Arbaeen, and were the latest in a series
of bombings that have shattered a relative calm in Iraq after the
formation of a new government last month.

In Karbala, home to the shrines of two revered Shi'ite
Muslim imams, at least 45 people were killed when two suicide bombers
detonated explosives-laden vehicles 20 minutes apart, said Karbala
provincial council head Mohammed Hamid al-Mussawi.

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The first bomber struck at Karbala's northern outskirts
about 3pm (11pm AEDT), Mussawi said, with the second occurring about
3.20pm, some 15km south of the city.

"At least 45 people, including women and children, have been killed and 150 have been wounded," he said.

A medical official at Karbala's main al-Hussein General
Hospital said that of the dead, four were children and 20 were women. He
added 20 people were killed in the blast north of the city, while the
remainder died in the second explosion.

"The victims have been transferred to five hospitals in
Karbala," he said. "We have also received parts of other bodies, so the
death toll could still rise further."

Earlier on Thursday, a roadside bomb detonated among a
crowd of Shi'ite pilgrims at the Al-Rasheed vegetable market in southern
Baghdad, killing one and wounding nine, while another such blast in a
central Iraqi town killed one and injured three, an interior ministry
official said.

The groups of pilgrims were walking to Karbala, 110km
south of the capital, as part of ceremonies to commemorate Arbaeen,
which marks 40 days since the anniversary of the death of the 7th
century Imam Hussein, who is revered among Shi'ite Muslims.

More than a million pilgrims are expected to visit Karbala in the coming days to commemorate Arbaeen, set to climax on Tuesday.


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Also on Thursday, a suicide bomber blew up a car filled
with explosives at a police headquarters in the central city of Baquba,
killing two policemen and a female journalist in the third attack on
Iraqi security forces in three days.

The suicide bomber detonated his payload about 10am, just
200 metres from the site of a large suicide car bomb against another
security agency Wednesday morning.

"I heard a massive blast and suddenly, there was a rain
of shrapnel falling from the sky," said Murtada Aiseh, a 47-year-old
local government employee who was in a nearby market with his wife and
suffered head injuries.

"I woke up in the hospital and found my wife near my bed, she suffered injuries to her right hand."

The attack also left 30 people wounded, according to
Ahmed Alwan, a doctor at Baquba hospital. An interior ministry official,
speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the toll.

The journalist, Wejdan Assad al-Juburi, had been a reporter for the Iraq al-Mustaqal
(Independent Iraq) newspaper. A total of 255 journalists and media
workers have been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003,
according to the Baghdad-based Journalism Freedoms Observatory.

Diyala was an al-Qaeda stronghold as recently as 2008.
While violence has since dropped off dramatically both in Diyala and
nationwide, the province remains one of Iraq's least secure.

The violence comes after suicide attacks in Diyala killed
16 people on Wednesday, a day after a suicide bomb killed 50 people at a
police recruitment centre in Tikrit, north of Baghdad.

The attacks come amid a spike in violence in Iraq, with
at least 116 people killed and hundreds more killed in bombings in the
past three days. By contrast, 151 people were killed throughout December

The Tikrit blast, the deadliest single attack in more
than two months, was the first major strike since Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki named a new cabinet on December 21, ending nine months of
stalemate after March 7 parliamentary elections.

He has yet to name an interior, defence or national
security minister, however, leaving him temporarily in charge of Iraq's
entire security apparatus.

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