BAGHDAD -- A car bomb explosion tore through a crowd of Shia pilgrims returning home yesterday from a religious commemoration, killing at least 20 and reinforcing fears of renewed sectarian violence, according to Iraqi officials.
The blast erupted late in the afternoon in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of the Iraqi capital. It targeted worshippers returning from the Shia holy city of Karbala following the climax of the religious commemoration known as Arbaeen.
Children were among the 20 people confirmed killed, according to a police official. He said 50 people were wounded.
The bomb went off in the middle of a gathering of pilgrims changing buses, coming from Karbala on their way to other destinations in the country, according to police.
"The explosion shook the whole block and smashed the windows of my house," said teacher Ibrahim Mohammed, who lives nearby. "There were women screaming and searching for their missing children."
Yesterday marked the height of Arbaeen, when hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims converged on Karbala to mark the passing of 40 days after the anniversary of the seventh century martyrdom of the revered Shia saint Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
Shia pilgrims are one of the favorite targets for Sunni insurgents during religious events. Iraqi authorities typically tighten security in Karbala, but security forces say they are unable to prevent all attacks.
Earlier in the day, state television aired video of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki walking among the pilgrims.
The attack came after authorities ordered the release of 11 women facing criminal charges and pledged to transfer other women to jails in their home provinces, meeting a main demand during Sunni protests against the government.