Three bomb attacks struck Shiite pilgrims during an important religious ritual for the Muslim sect, killing 21 people and wounding nearly 100 others, Iraqi officials said.
Pilgrims marking the ritual of Ashoura are often targeted by Sunni
extremists who believe that Shiites are not true Muslims. After the fall
of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime in 2003, Shiites regained
the right to express their beliefs freely, and since then the annual
commemorations have drawn huge crowds despite the threat of violence.
In Monday's first attack, a bomb exploded among Shiite pilgrims in Latifiyah, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of the Iraqi capital, killing two of them and wounding three others, police said. A medical official confirmed the casualty toll.
Hours later, a car bomb exploded near a group of Shiite pilgrims in the town of Mahaweel as they were heading to the holy Shiite city of Karbala, killing eight people and wounding about 56 other pilgrims, said police officials in Babil province.
Mahaweel is about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Baghdad.
Later, two attacks against Shiite pilgrims in the capital killed 11 people and wounded 32 others, police said.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the are not authorized to talk to the media.
Ashoura marks the anniversary of the seventh-century death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. His death in a battle outside of Karbala sealed Islam's historical Sunni-Shiite split. To commemorate his death, hundreds of thousands of Shiites walk from around the country to Karbala.
Security is usually very tight in and around the city, so insurgents have taken to attacking the pilgrims during their long walk to and from Karbala when its much harder for the Iraqi security forces to protect them.