Two powerful explosions targeting Shi'ite pilgrims in Iraq have killed more than 40 people in the holy city of Karbala. The attack was the latest in a series of similar deadly bombings this week.
Iraqi government TV carried initial reports from the scene of the explosions, which targeted thousands of Shi'ites as they converged on Karbala for the culmination of their pilgrimage.
The coordinated attack was the third major terror strike against Shi'ite pilgrims in just under a week. Almost two dozen pilgrims were killed in a suicide-bombing in Karbala on Wednesday. On Monday a female suicide-bomber blew herself up amid a throng of pilgrims, killing 41 and wounding dozens.
Eyewitnesses to Friday's twin bombings say the crowds of pilgrims were so thick in Karbala that even a minor explosion could have killed or wounded many. Some of the victims were apparently killed when they fled the scene of the first explosion, only to be caught in the blast of the second bomb.
Iraqi authorities say that over 10 million Shi'ite pilgrims, including visitors from Iran, Kuwait, Bahrein, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, are participating in this year's pilgrimage. Shi'ites are visiting Karbala to mark the 40th day after the slaying of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.
Iraqi Health Minister Salah al Hasnawi visited pilgrims wounded from Friday's blast at Karbala's Hussein hospital, indicating that every effort was being made to help them:
The health minister says that the innocent people that were wounded in this attack will be taken back to their homes across Iraq in government ambulances once their health situation improves, and all emergency rescue teams are coordinating efforts to help.
Provincial governor Amaleddin al Hir indicated that the throngs of visitors were putting strain on the province's abilities to cope, but that everyone was pitching in:
He says that all of Karbala's government agencies and most national government ministries have contributed what they were able to contribute, and pilgrims have been grateful for the help.
Al Hir blamed Friday's attack on "elements of al Qaida" that were being "abetted by Baathists" from the former government of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims were shown on government TV on the roads leading to Karbala, most of them dressed in black and barefooted, with many carrying colored banners, flags and posters to commemorated the death of Imam Hussein.
Thousands of Iraqi government security forces were deployed along the routes leading from Baghdad to Karbala to maintain order. Scores of checkpoints were also set up along the way to search visitors for possible explosives.