A bomb planted on a parked motorcycle ripped through a crowd of Shiite pilgrims today, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 100 just days after authorities promised tighter security to combat a string of attacks on the huge religious procession, officials said.
The blast on the outskirts of the holy city of Karbala was the second major scene of bloodshed this week as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make their way to an important annual Shiite religious observance. It raised fears of a spike in attacks by suspected Sunni insurgents when the pilgrimage culminates Friday.
The bomb exploded at about 11 a.m. in an area known as Ibrahimia near the east entrance - one of three - into Karbala, about 80 kilometers south of Baghdad, said a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.
Witnesses described widespread panic as people tried to carry the dead and wounded through a thick crowd of pilgrims packed shoulder to shoulder. Some were injured as people tried to run from the blast site, said Kareem Madhi, a pilgrim from nearby Hillah.
"I saw a fireball and then black smoke raising," he said. "The security measures are unable to protect these huge numbers of pilgrims."