BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- A female suicide bomber has killed at least 41 people and wounded 106 others in an attack on Shi'ite pilgrims in the Iraqi capital, an Interior Ministry source said.
The attack took place as thousands of Shi'ite Muslims flooded the streets at the start of an arduous trek to the southern city of Karbala, 80 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, for the religious rite of Arbain.
"At 11:45 [local time] on Monday, a female suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt blew herself up among the crowd of pilgrims going to Karbala," the office of Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qasim al-Musawi said.
Thousands if not millions of Shi'ites, from Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, and other nations, have defied the threat of suicide bombings since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Sunni-led government of Saddam Hussein to visit Iraq's Shi'ite holy sites.
Arbain marks 40 days of mourning for Hussein, the Prophet Mohammad's grandson, who died in a seventh century battle at Kerbala. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, beating their heads and chests in ritual mourning, pour into the city for the rite.
Many walk from hundreds of kilometres away.
Tens of thousands of troops and police have been deployed to protect pilgrims as they walk and also around the revered Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala. But suspected Sunni Islamist extremists, who view Shi'ite Muslims as apostates, still manage to get through.
Arbain was once suppressed like other Shi'ite gatherings under Saddam.