A series of four blasts killed at least 22 people in the holy city of Karbala, and about 106 others were reported wounded as well. The first blast, from a car bomb, took place at 9:30 a.m. and targeted civilians waiting outside a government passport and identity agency in the Bab Tweirij district.
A second blast followed within minutes. Two more explosions occurred about 20 minutes later, after first responders arrived to treat the earlier casualties. Unnerved security personnel reportedly fired shots into the air creating even more panic as they tried to keep sightseers away. Some houses in the area were completely demolished by the explosions, and larger buildings took severe damage. The entrances to the city were shut, and a spokesman for the provincial council blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq for today’s attack.
Residents traveling on pilgrimages away from the city have been targeted recently too. Almost two weeks ago, 22 pilgrims traveling to Syria were killed in the predominantly Sunni Anbar province. Their deaths and the arrests that followed enflamed sectarian tensions between Karbala and Anbar. One member of parliament suggested this attack was meant to further escalate the brewing hostilities.
Karbala’s important shrines also attract many Shi’ite pilgrims, who make easy targets for insurgents. On Thursday, a restaurant that is popular with pilgrims was the target of a bomb attack just north of Karbala. The last major attacks in the city, however, took place during religious observances in July and left over 100 dead or wounded.