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Bombings Kill At Least 24 As Shi'ite Pilgrims Arrive In Baghdad

Scene of one blast along the pilgrimage route
Three suicide attacks carried out by women have killed at least 24 people in Baghdad as some 1 million Shi'a are expected in the city for a major religious ceremony.

Meanwhile, another bombing in the northern city of Kirkuk has killed at least 10 people. The attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk come amid reports that security has vastly improved in Iraq in recent months.

In the capital, police say more than 70 people were also wounded in the attacks. They apparently targeted Shi'ite pilgrims heading for the Al-Kadhimiyah shrine in north Baghdad for a major ceremony commemorating the death of the eighth-century imam Musa al-Kadhim.

The annual pilgrimage, which is an important event on the Shi'ite religious calendar, reaches its climax on July 29 with 1 million people expected to visit the shrine.

It is still not clear if the victims were pilgrims, but the bombings took place near the Karrada district in central Baghdad, where pilgrims would pass on foot on their way to the holy shrine.

Speaking to RFE/RL from Baghdad, Iraqi journalist Adil Mahmud said that despite the bombings, many people are still heading to the shrine to take part in the ceremony.

"Still, there are many, many people still walking to the shrine of Musa al-Kadhim," he said. "Pilgrims are used to bombings, so I doubt that any kinds of bombings or threats would change or affect this pilgrimage. Iraqis are used to these [attacks]."

Major religious ceremonies in Iraqi cities have been marred by bloodshed in the past, and authorities have stepped up security to prevent similar attacks this year. The bombings follow an attack on pilgrims on July 27 that left seven people dead in southern Baghdad.

Security forces have deployed some 200 women volunteers around the Al-Kadhimiyah shrine to search female pilgrims. Insurgents have increasingly used women to carry out suicide attacks because, unlike men, women often are not thoroughly searched at checkpoints.

Women, who can easily hide explosives under their all-enveloping robes, have reportedly carried out more than 20 suicide attacks this year.

At least eight people were killed and 20 were wounded last week in an attack carried out by a female suicide bomber in Ba'qubah, north of Baghdad.

Violence has been reduced greatly in the capital in the recent month, as Al-Qaeda insurgents were pushed from former strongholds in Baghdad and Iraq's west. They have been mainly confined to the north.

Nonetheless, the U.S. military has said it expects insurgents to attempt high-profile attacks to get media attention.

Meanwhile, a bombing in the northern city of Kirkuk has killed at least 20 and wounded over 50. The bombing came as thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest the passage of a controversial law on provincial elections.

with agency reporting
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