Middle East

Car bomb kills Shia pilgrims south of Baghdad Iraq

Shia Muslim women pilgrims in Karbala, Iraq, 3 January
Image caption Shia Muslims have been attending a religious festival in Karbala

A car bomb has killed at least 20 Shia Muslim pilgrims and injured others in the Iraqi town of Musayyib, south of the capital Baghdad, officials say.

The device exploded in a car park at 17:00 (14:00 GMT) as pilgrims returned from the holy city of Karbala.

An eyewitness spoke of having seen dozens of bodies and cars on fire after the explosion.

Shia pilgrims, who have been frequently targeted in Iraq, have been observing the festival of Arbaeen.

The bomb went off close to a bus stop where coaches that carry pilgrims from Karbala to other Iraqi cities drop and collect them, police told BBC News.

Bombs killed seven people in Musayyib on Monday.

Iraq's Shia-led government has been accused by critics of seeking to marginalise political representatives of the Sunni minority, which dominated the country under the late Saddam Hussein.

There were no immediate reports on Thursday of any group saying it had carried out the bombing. Past attacks on Shia pilgrims have been blamed on Sunni militants.

'Dozens of bodies'

A police official who spoke to the Associated Press news agency said children were among the dead in Musayyib, 60km (40 miles) south of Baghdad .

Ali Sabbar, a pilgrim who witnessed the explosion, told Reuters news agency: "I was getting a sandwich when a very strong explosion rocked the place and the blast threw me away.

"When I regained my senses and stood up, I saw dozens of bodies. Many cars were set on fire."

The news agency quoted police and medics as saying a suicide attacker had set off the device but other reports spoke only of a car bomb.

Security forces traditionally tighten security during Shia pilgrimages in Iraq but accept they cannot stop every attack, correspondents say.

Millions of pilgrims have visited Karbala to mark an anniversary associated with a revered Shia figure, Imam Hussein.

According to provincial governor Amal al-Din al-Har, quoted by AFP, these included around 750,000 pilgrims from 30 different countries.