Suicide bombing against Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad kills nine: officials

By Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP

BAGHDAD–A suicide bomber targeted Shiite Muslims taking part in an annual pilgrimage in Baghdad on Monday, killing nine people and wounding another 21, Iraqi security officials said.

The attack targeted a checkpoint along a route used by Shite pilgrims in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of al-Shaab. Four soldiers who were guarding the route were among the dead.

It was the first attack on Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad during the lead-up to the religious commemoration known as Arbaeen, when Shiite faithful converge on the holy city of Karbala. The annual commemoration is often marked by violence despite tight security measures to protect the pilgrims, many of whom travel to Karbala on foot.

Arbaeen marks the passing of 40 days after the anniversary of the seventh century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and a central figure in Shiite Islam. Iraqi officials say they expect the number of pilgrims this year to top last year’s record of more than 17 million.

Earlier Monday, two roadside bombs in commercial districts of Baghdad killed five people and wounded 16, according to the Iraqi security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release the information.

No one claimed Monday’s attacks, but the Islamic State group has repeatedly targeted the country’s Shiite majority, viewing them as apostates deserving of death. The extremist group swept across Iraq in 2014, capturing a third of the country and declaring it part of a self-styled Islamic caliphate.

On Monday, Iraq’s military told civilians to leave the IS-held city of Ramadi, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad, indicating that an operation could soon be underway to retake the city. IS captured Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, in May.

The military statement, broadcast on Iraqi state TV, said families should leave the city from the south, without providing further details.

The U.S.-led coalition carried out seven airstrikes near Ramadi on Saturday, targeting IS fighters, positions and weapons caches.