Baghdad: Two car bomb blasts targeting Shiites in Baghdad ahead of the major Ashura religious commemorations killed at least 19 people, security and medical officials have said.
The first blast struck near a tent yesterday from which tea and water were being handed out in the Al-Ilam area in southwest Baghdad. It killed 13 people and wounded at least 29 people, the sources said.
In the evening another car bomb exploded in the majority Shiite Sadr City district of northeast Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 19.
Again the target was a tent set up to host pilgrims.
Earlier yesterday, a car bomb blew up near a police checkpoint in central Baghdad killing five people and wounding 17, while another bombing in western Baghdad killed one person and wounded five.
Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims will flock to the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala for Ashura, which marks the death of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered figures in Shiite Islam.
Pilgrims have been targeted during Ashura before, but this year's commemorations, which peak tomorrow, face even greater danger, with the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in control of large areas of the country.
IS, like other Sunni extremist groups, considers Shiites to be heretics and frequently targets them with bombings.
The pilgrimage is a major test for the new government headed by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, as well as for Iraq's security forces, who have struggled to push the militants back.
A major attack during the commemorations in Karbala, where Imam Hussein is buried, would increase already significant tensions between Iraq's Shiite majority and Sunni Arab minority, and could spark revenge attacks.