BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Three bombs exploded near a busy street market and a religious site in a mainly Shi‘ite area of southwestern Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 23 people and wounding scores of others, security sources said.
A parked car bomb exploded a short time later in the Iraqi’s capital’s southern Abu Dsheer district, killing two people and wounding 10.
Iraq’s police and army have ramped up security in the run-up to a major Shi‘ite religious occasion that climaxes next week.
The first explosions occurred in quick succession in the al-Shurta al-Rabaa district of Baghdad, and one of the blasts struck near a Husseiniya, a place of worship for Shi‘ites.
An Interior Ministry source put the toll at 23 dead and 107 wounded, but sources at three local hospitals said a total of 35 people had been killed, with another 80 wounded.
”I was on my way to the market when the first bomb blew up, said Sijad, a teenager who lives in the area. “People ran to see what was going on and the second one blew up. Suddenly there were bodies everywhere around me, most of them women and children, and their things were scattered everywhere.”
Iraqi security forces are on high alert in Baghdad, where Shi‘ites, Iraq’s majority community, have already started trekking through the streets for an annual pilgrimage to commemorate the death of Shi‘ite holy man Imam Moussa al-Kadhim.
Shi‘ite pilgrims have been frequent targets of a stubborn Sunni Islamist insurgency in recent years. Shi‘ite religious rites were banned under Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
A series of attacks during the pilgrimage last year killed dozens of people and wounded hundreds. In 2005, rumours of a bombing on the Bridge of the Imams near the Imam Kadhim shrine in Baghdad touched off a stampede that killed 1,000 people.
An Interior Ministry source said the bombers struck at the street market’s busiest hour, employing wooden carts usually used for merchandise to transport their explosives.
Ali al-Haidari, who suffered a shrapnel wound in his back, said he tried to rescue two children at the scene.
“There was a big explosion. Dust was everywhere. I was running to the place of the explosion and then (when I was) a few yards away, the second explosion happened,” he said. “I didn’t feel that I was wounded until I reached the hospital.”
“Bodies were everywhere. I carried two children in my arms. One of them was dead and the other one, a girl, was seriously wounded.”
Violence has dropped since sectarian slaughter peaked in 2006-07 but Sunni insurgents linked to al Qaeda and rival Shi‘ite militias still carry out bombings and other attacks.
Insurgents have targeted Iraqi security forces in recent weeks. Four people were killed and nearly three dozen were wounded on Wednesday in a series of attacks on police in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul.
Additional reporting by Reuters Television; writing by Jim Loney; editing by Alistair Lyon