A suicide car bomber rammed a truck carrying Shiite pilgrims returning from a major religious commemoration Sunday, killing at least 32 people a day after Iraqi leaders warned sectarian violence could eventually spread around the region.
The truck was among the convoys carrying millions of pilgrims home from Karbala in southern Iraq, where millions of Shiites gathered over the weekend — where they also mourned the deaths of hundreds of pilgrims killed by suspected Sunni extremists last week heading for the ceremony.
Attacks on other pilgrim convoys killed at least five people in Baghdad. In northern Iraq, a suicide bomber attacked the offices of Iraq's biggest Sunni political party, killing three guards.
In central Baghdad, the truck was bringing about 70 men and boys home when it was blasted by the car bomber. At least 24 people were injured, police and hospital officials said.
One of the pilgrims, Mustafa Moussawi, a 31-year-old vegetable store owner, said he felt safe after crossing from Sunni-dominated areas and reaching central Baghdad.
"Then the car bomber slammed us from behind," said Moussawi, who suffered injuries to his right hand and shoulder. "I blame the government. They didn't provide a safe route for us even though they knew we were targets for attack."
Iraqi security officials have struggled to protect the annual pilgrimage to mark the end of 40 days mourning for the 7th century battlefield death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson. Shiites consider him rightful heir of Islam's leadership, which cemented the rift with Sunni Muslims.
More than 3000 Shiite pilgrims were killed by suspected Sunni bombers and gunmen as they streamed toward Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad.
The violence this week carried additional worries for U.S.-led forces, who entered Sadr City last week under a carefully negotiated deal with political allies of the Madhi Army militia, led by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
He has agreed to withhold his armed militia from the streets during a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown begun last month. But attacks on his power base could encourage al-Sadr to send his fighters back to protect Shiites if U.S.-Iraqi forces cannot.
They could also rekindle tit-for-tat sectarian killings that have receded since the Baghdad security push began nearly four weeks ago.
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