90 Shiite Pilgrims Killed in Suicide Bomb Attack

Two suicide bombers killed at least 90 Shiite pilgrims and wounded more than 100 others Tuesday on a crowded street in the town of Hilla, Iraq. And nine U.S. troops were killed in two bomb attacks north of Baghdad. With the security crackdown in Baghdad in its third week, President Bush says it's too soon to judge how it's going.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

In Iraq today, suicide bombers targeted Shiite pilgrims. The attacks killed at least 112 people. The worst bombings were in the city of Hilla, where at least 106 people died and more than 100 were wounded. The pilgrims were making their way west on foot to the city of Karbala. They traveled there to mark the death in the 17th century of the Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

NPR's Graham Smith reports from Baghdad.

GRAHAM SMITH: In an attack sure to fuel sectarian hatred, two suicide bombers made their way into a crowd of black-clad pilgrims in Hilla today and detonated explosive-packed belts. The men were also carrying plastic bags full of explosives, according to police. Thousands of Shiite worshipers were gathered at a crossroad, waiting to get through a checkpoint meant to protect them on their way to the city of Karbala.

In addition to the scores of dead, a source at the Hilla Hospital says more than a 120 people packed the emergency room. Each year, religious Shiites stream towards Karbala for Arbayeen, the end of a 40-day period of mourning for the death of their most revered figure, the Imam Hussein. They travel on foot, often as families, bearing black flags of mourning, green to symbolize paradise in the after life, and red flags for the blood spilled when Hussein was beheaded after a great battle over 1,300 years ago.

The pilgrims are easy targets for bombers and gunmen. In addition to the tragedy in Hilla, car bombers killed 10 religious travelers in southern Baghdad, another three just west in the Yarmouk neighborhood. Yesterday, snipers and bombs killed 12 others. The ceremonial journey is meant to culminate on Friday at the shrine where Imam Hussein is believed to be buried, a religious festival banned under the Baathist regime, but now attended by tens of thousands.

Traditionally after Arbayeen, activities that are put on hold during the observance - weddings, parties, any public display of joy - can resume. But with these latest killings, condemned tonight Prime Minister Maliki, many people here say that revenge attacks against Sunnis may be coming.

Already the last three days have seen an uptake in the number of tortured bodies found in the streets and rivers around Baghdad, this despite the U.S. and Iraqi security operations meant to quell such violence. The killing of Americans also continues. Today, the U.S. military announced the deaths of nine soldiers from Task Force Lightning; six were killed yesterday on combat patrol in Saladin province, three in neighboring Diyala, all of them from roadside explosives that targeted their vehicles.

Graham Smith, NPR News, Baghdad.

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