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Female suicide bomber hits Iraq pilgrims, kills 46

A female suicide bomber walking among Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad detonated an explosives belt Monday, killing at least 46 people and wounding more than 122, officials said.

The bombing was the first major strike this year against pilgrims making their way to the city of Karbala to mark a holy day. It came as security officials warned of a possible increase in attacks by insurgents using new tactics to bypass bomb-detection methods.

The bombing raises fears of an escalation of attacks as hundreds of thousands of Shiites head to Karbala to mark the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure.

The bomber hid the explosives underneath an abaya – a black cloak worn from head to toe by women – as she joined a group of pilgrims on the outskirts of Baghdad’s Shiite-dominated neighborhood of Shaab, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said.

The bomber set off the blast as she lined up with other women to be searched by female security guards at a security checkpoint just inside a rest tent, al-Moussawi said. Witnesses described a chaotic scene in the minutes following the blast.

Raheem Kadhom, 35, was standing about 150 yards away when he says a huge fireball erupted among the pilgrims.

Pilgrims were “on the ground, covered in blood and crying for help,” he said.
The blast knocked some out of their slippers and shoes, which were scattered across the ground, Khadhom said.

Many ran to the aid of the pilgrims. Some put the wounded in cars, taking them to hospitals rather than waiting for ambulances, Kadhom said.

Despite an overall decline in violence in Iraq, Al-Qaida and other Sunni extremists have routinely targeted pilgrims in an attempt to stoke sectarian strife and weaken the Shiite-dominated government.

The vast numbers of pilgrims and the distances many of them must travel at predictable times of the year make it all but impossible to guarantee their safety from extremist groups.

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