BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants struck across the Iraqi capital Wednesday, killing 38 people, including 30 in a suicide bombing targeting pilgrims commemorating a revered Shi'ite saint, Iraqi police said.
The attacks — the deadliest of which occurred in northern Baghdad's predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah — offered a clear indication of the push by insurgents to exploit Iraq's political vacuum and destabilize country as U.S. troops head home.
Police said the bloody suicide bombing split the hot Wednesday evening air as Shi'ite pilgrims were about to cross a bridge leading to the a shrine in the Shi'ite Kazamiyah neighborhood where the seventh imam is buried.
A 30-year-old Sunni resident of Azamiyah said he was drinking tea and watching pilgrims walk by when he and his friends heard the blast.
"We heard a big explosion and everybody rushed to the site to see bodies and hear wounded people, screaming for help, Saif al-Azami told the Associated Press. "We helped carry the wounded to the hospital before the ambulances arrived," he said, adding that some of his Sunni friends who were serving food and water to the Shi'ite pilgrims were killed and wounded in the attacks.
Militants were able to strike even as security forces were on high alert in the capital, where Shi'ite pilgrims from all over Iraq converged on a mosque in the northern Baghdad neighborhood to mark the anniversary of the death of Moussa al-Kadhim, the seventh imam.
A vehicle ban was in place across Kazimiyah, and 200,000 members of security forces were deployed along the way to the shrine, searching pilgrims for weapons at various checkpoints.
Though violence has dropped across Iraq, religious processions, holy sites and security forces are still regularly targeted by insurgents trying to re-ignite sectarian bloodshed that had the nation teetering on the brink of civil war from 2005 to 2007.
Earlier Wednesday, police and hospital officials said two pilgrims died and seven were wounded in eastern Baghdad when a mortar shell hit their procession.
In western Baghdad, militants blew up the homes of Iraqi security officers, killing three family members.
Police officials said militants blew up the homes of two police officers, two members of an anti-al Qaeda Awakening Council and that of an ambulance driver in Wednesday's dawn attacks in Baghdad's western suburb of Abu Ghraib.
None of the targeted men were at home at the time of the attacks, but three of the men's relatives were killed, police and hospital officials in Abu Ghraib said.
Also in Abu Ghraib, an Iraqi soldier was killed and six were wounded when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into an army checkpoint. A bomb attached to a car of a police officer exploded in the same western Baghdad suburb, killing his mother and wounding his wife, police officials said.
In the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora in southern Baghdad, a police major was killed when a bomb attached to his car detonated as he drove to work on Wednesday morning, police said.
All officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Saad Abdul-Kadir contributed to this report.