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Attack on Shi'ite pilgrims in Iraq kills eight

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 10 Feb 2011 14:26 GMT
Author: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2011. Click For Restrictions.
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2011. Click For Restrictions.
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* Pilgrims attacked en route to religious commemoration

* Dozens died in attacks on Shi&${esc.hash}39;ite pilgrims last month

(Updates death toll, adds details, quotes)

SAMARRA, Iraq, Feb 10 (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber attacked a group of Shi&${esc.hash}39;ite pilgrims heading to the Iraqi city of Samarra on Thursday, killing eight people and wounding 30, officials said.

The blast occurred near the town of Dujail, 50 km (30 miles) north of Baghdad, on the main road to Samarra, where pilgrims will commemorate on Friday the death of one of the 12 revered Shi&${esc.hash}39;ite imams in 874.

Raysan Abood, an eyewitness, said the car was disguised by flags commonly flown at such commemorations and was playing mourning music, allowing it to penetrate the crowd of pilgrims.

"I saw seven dead bodies. I know them by name. They were our friends and they were delivering food and tea to the pilgrims who came from other towns," Abood said.

Samarra is the home of the al-Askari mosque and shrine. Pilgrims are heading there for ceremonies to mark the death of Hasan al-Askari, the 11th of the 12 imams.

In February 2006, a militant attack on the mosque sparked waves of sectarian violence that pushed Iraq close to all-out civil war.

Dozens of people died in attacks on Shi&${esc.hash}39;ite pilgrims last month near the holy city of Kerbala.

Shi&${esc.hash}39;ite religious events were banned under Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, who was ousted in a U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Militants have targeted Shi&${esc.hash}39;ite pilgrims frequently in the years since.

Overall violence has fallen sharply since the peak of sectarian warfare in 2006-07, and was down about a fifth last year from 2009. But attacks are still occurring at an average of about 12 a day over the last three months, a U.S. military commander said this week.

(Reporting by Sabah al-Bazee in Samarra, and Waleed Ibrahim in Baghdad; Writing by Jim Loney; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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