Bomb kills 49 in Iraqi city of Karbala

Updated: 2008-03-18 17:11

BAGHDAD -- A female suicide bomber struck Shiite worshippers in the holy city of Karbala on Monday, an official and a witness said, killing at least 49 people and leaving pools of blood on the street leading to one of Iraq's most revered mosques.

The blast was the deadliest in a series of attacks that left at least 78 Iraqis dead, including six youths killed when mortar rounds slammed into a soccer field in eastern Baghdad.

Iraqis remove the dead from the scene of suicide bombing in Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, March, 17, 2008. A female suicide bomber attacked a group of Shiite worshippers near a mosque in Karbala on Monday, killing 49 people, officials said. [Agencies]

Two US soldiers also were killed Monday in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad, bringing the American death toll closer to 4,000 as the US-led war enters its sixth year. At least 3,990 members of the US military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The violence marred overlapping trips by Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John McCain to Baghdad. Their visits were aimed at touting recent security gains and stressing Washington's long-term commitment to fighting insurgents in Iraq.

The US Embassy and military issued a joint statement blaming al-Qaida in Iraq for the Karbala attack.

The bomber struck after the worshippers had gathered at a sacred historical site about half a mile from the golden domed shrine of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who was killed in a seventh-century battle.

A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said the attacker was a woman -- as did a witness.

The US military described the attack as a suicide operation but put the casualty toll at 40 Iraqis killed and 65 wounded. The US statement said the identity of the bomber remained unknown.

Brig. Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat, Karbala's police chief, said 43 people were killed and 73 wounded. He denied it was a suicide attack, saying a bomb had been planted in the area.

Karim Khazim, the city's chief health official, put the death toll at 49 and said seven of those killed were Iranian pilgrims who had traveled to the holy site.

The discrepancies could not immediately be resolved.

AP Television News footage showed a man carefully picking up pieces of flesh and wires apparently from a fuse as evening prayer services were broadcast from loudspeakers nearby.

The witness, who did not identify himself, told AP Television News that a woman in the crowd had blown herself up.

If true, it would be among the deadliest attacks carried out by women during the Iraq conflict.

Female suicide bombers have been involved in at least 20 attacks or attempted attacks since the war began, including the grisly bombings of two pet markets in Baghdad that killed nearly 100 people last month.

The US military has warned that insurgents are using female attackers because they can more easily avoid checkpoint searches and can hide the explosives under traditional all-encompassing black Islamic robes.

Police closed the area around the twin golden dome mosques and blocked all roads leading to the sites, which include tombs of Imam Hussein and his half brother, also a Shiite saint.

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