At least 60 people died in Baghdad yesterday as two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a Shiite shrine, in a second day of bloodshed in the Iraqi capital. As many as 125 were injured in the explosions, which took place as worshippers gathered to pray outside the gold-domed shrine in the neighbourhood of Kadhimiyah in northern Baghdad, according to police. It was the deadliest single bomb attack in the country since June and comes less than 24 hours after blasts in the capital and Iraq's Diyala province killed at least 80 people.
The attackers detonated their explosive vests within minutes of each other in the packed market just outside the shrine, one of the holiest Shiite sites in the world. Twenty of those killed and 80 of the injured were Iranian pilgrims. "I was near the shrine and suddenly there was a huge explosion and a fire broke out," Sabiha Kadhim, 50, who lost four family members in the blast, told AFP. "I saw human body parts everywhere."
Thursday's suicide bombing in a restaurant in the north-east of Baghdad, also targeted Iranian pilgrims, and 52 of the 56 killed in the blast were from the neighbouring state. It is not the first time the shrine, the tomb of Shiite saint Imam Musa al-Kadhim has been targeted. Earlier this month a bomb left in a bag near the shrine killed seven and injured 23. A man disguised as a woman killed more than three dozen people in a suicide attack at the tomb in January last year.
Nouri al Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, has ordered a military task force to investigate the bombing and said battalion and company commanders responsible for security in the area should be relieved of duty during the investigation, the military spokesman Major Gen Qassim al Moussawi said. The recent escalation in violence raises security concerns as the US prepares to withdraw its troops from Iraqi cities before June, as outlined in the timeline agreed with the Iraqi government. Officials had warned that insurgents would take this as an opportunity to intensify attacks.
There has been a lull in violence in the country over the past year, although Sunni insurgents backed by al Qa'eda still carry out attacks, and are thought to be behind yesterday's blasts. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The violence comes a day after Iraqi officials claimed that they had arrested Abu Omar al Baghdadi, thought to be the leader of al Qa'eda in Iraq, but the reports have not been verified.
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