Twin bombings killed more than 45 Shia pilgrims today, taking the number of suicide attacks across Iraq in the past four days to seven with a collective death toll of more than 110.

The blasts targeted pilgrims marking the annual Shia Muslim ceremony of Arbae’en near entrances to Karbala, a shrine city in central Iraq. Both bombs were packed into cars driven by suicide bombers.

Between 30 and 45 pilgrims were killed, and at least 100 injured. They were the sixth and seventh suicide attacks to have taken place since Monday – again undermining government claims that the towns and cities of Iraq are now safe and terrorists can no longer wreak havoc.

Car bombs driven by suicide attackers have this week caused carnage in Ramadi, Baquba and now Karbala. Another suicide bomber, on foot, killed around 60 police recruits in Tikrit.

The sharp upswing in violence has happened as Iraq remains without ministers to fill the posts of defence, national security and the interior.

They are regarded as the most critical positions in the government, yet the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is reluctant to name names more than three weeks after he formed a government and almost 11 months since a national election was held.

Iraqi officials have pointed to the past two months of relative quiet – in which death tolls have been lower than at any time since the 2003 US-led invasion – as evidence that the Sunni insurgency has lost potency.

They have paraded in public more than 30 militants arrested after a massacre in a Baghdad cathedral in late October and claim to have killed several would be suicide bombers, including two men driving a car bomb near Mosul yesterday.

However, the militants have proven to be resilient and resourceful, able to strike at likely targets despite major security operations.

Groups affiliated to al-Qaida have been responsible for numerous attacks on Shia pilgrims in the past and were again prime suspects in today’s attack.

“You can’t fight them with tanks, or an army,” Hassan Jihad, from the Iraqi parliament’s defence and security committee, said. “We need to build a good intelligence system. We can only defeat them this way.

“They have sleeper cells, they know how to violate the gaps in security and they want to prove that they still control things by attacking first Tikrit in the north, then Baquba in the east and now Karbala in the south.”

Dr Imad Hussein, a member of Karbala local council, said: “We prepared for the pilgrims with three security barriers and 12,000 police officers.

“We had intelligence about potential attacks, so we increased the security measures. The explosions took place outside our barriers. It’s obvious that they are working again to hit the pilgrims and stoke the fires of sectarian war.”

But the head of Iraq’s anti-bomb squad, General Jihad al-Jabari, remained defiant. “The increase in explosions this week does not prove that the situation has deteriorated,” he said.

“These bombs are locally made, with local material. They are made in provinces very close to their targets. Focus instead on the plots we disrupted and the bombers we killed.

“Even with all our experience, it is difficult to control them because they are committed to killing themselves and others.”

Iraq’s main roads are teeming with hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims, all on a choreographed journey to the scene of the site where Imam Hussein, who was revered in Shia Islam, was killed in the seventh century.


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