, BAGHDAD, Apr 24 – Two suicide attackers blew themselves up killing 55 people, including several Iranians, outside a shrine in Baghdad on Friday, the second deadly attack on religious pilgrims in two days.
The attacks took place as hundreds of worshippers gathered to pray at the Imam Musa Al Kadhim shrine in the predominantly Shiite neighbourhood of Kadhimiyah in northern Baghdad, officials said.
"Fifty-five people were killed in the attack, including 20 Iranians. Another 125 people were wounded, including 80 Iranian pilgrims," an official in the defence ministry told AFP.
An interior ministry official confirmed the tolls.
The bombings come less than three months before US forces are to withdraw from all Iraqi cities and a day after suicide attacks in Baghdad and Iraq’s Diyala province killed more than 80 people.
The two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowded market just outside the shrine – one of the most revered Shiite holy sites in the world.
Major General Qassim Atta, the security forces spokesman for Baghdad, confirmed the attacks but could not immediately say how many people had been killed or wounded.
"There was a terrorist attack by two suicide bombers near Al-Kadhim shrine at about 11.56 am (0856 GMT) targeting pilgrims and civilians," he said.
The blast came as officials announced that the death toll from a Thursday suicide bombing in a restaurant northeast of Baghdad packed with Iranian religious pilgrims rose to 56.
That assault took place in the town of Muqdadiyah in the ethnically and religiously mixed Diyala province, which still sees regular attacks despite security improvements elsewhere in Iraq.
"The morgue received 56 bodies, among whom 52 were Iranian," said Ahmed Fuad, a doctor and morgue official in the provincial capital Baquba.
"Sixteen were women and 35 were men and there was one small child aged about six years," he added, detailing the Iranian casualties.
A security official said separately that 63 people had been wounded in the bombing, the force of which caused the restaurant’s roof to collapse.
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians visit Iraq’s many Shiite holy sites each year despite the lingering violence in the country.
Another suicide bombing in southeastern Baghdad on Thursday killed 28 people displaced by the violence in recent years who had been sheltering in an abandoned building but come down to receive food aid from police.
And a US-allied militia leader and two other people were killed and six others wounded in a separate suicide attack in Baquba on Thursday night, a district official said.
"A suicide attack targetted Mobarak Ahmad, one of the Sahwa leaders in Al-Odhaim, close to his home, killing him and two others on Thursday night," said Ahmad Ezzat, a Diyala province official.
The Sahwa "Awakening" movement began in 2006 when mostly Sunni tribes and former insurgents allied with US forces to help drive out Al-Qaeda from the group’s former strongholds across the country.
The surge in bloodshed comes less than three months before US troops are to withdraw from all major Iraqi towns and cities as part of a general drawdown required by a security pact signed with Washington in November.
US forces are to pull out of all Iraqi cities and major towns by June 30 and from the country as a whole by the end of 2011.
Violence has plummeted over the past two years as American and Iraqi forces have allied with the Sahwas to bring calm to vast swathes of the country.
However April is proving to be a deadly month, with more than 250 people already killed and more than 600 wounded, according to an AFP count based on reports from security officials.