Three female suicide bombers killed at least 57 people and wounded 300 in Baghdad on Monday as Shia pilgrims flooded into the Iraqi capital for a major religious event, police said.
Al Qaeda has increasingly used women to carry out attacks because they can often evade the more stringent security checks applied to men.
Reuters television showed police, firemen and other workers washing blood and clearing debris from the street at the scene of one of blasts. A Reuters witness saw workers collecting pieces of flesh and body parts.
At least 1 million people are expected to visit the Kadhamiya shrine in northwestern Baghdad for the pilgrimage, which peaks on Tuesday. Iraqi security forces have clamped the area in tight security.
It was unclear if the victims were pilgrims, but the blasts were near the Karrada district in central Baghdad, an area many pilgrims would pass through on their way to the shrine.
Gunmen killed seven pilgrims in southern Baghdad on Sunday as they made their way to the shrine on foot.
Iraq has said it expects many more people to attend this year’s pilgrimage, which marks the death of one of Shia Islam’s 12 imams, because of improved security.
Violence has fallen to four-year lows, with Sunni Islamist Qaeda mainly confined to the country’s north after being pushed from former strongholds in Baghdad and Iraq’s west.
But the US military has said it expects insurgents to attempt high-profile attacks to grab media attention and show they are still a potent force.
Security forces had deployed a team of female guards around Kadhamiya to search women. Women have carried out more than 20 suicide attacks in Iraq this year, particularly in northwestern Diyala province.
Al Qaeda has often targeted Shia pilgrims taking part in religious events in Iraq. It considers Shi’ism — the majority Muslim denomination in Iraq — heretical.
Other Shia religious events in recent months have passed relatively peacefully.