BAGHDAD — A female suicide bomber detonated a vest rigged with explosives among a crowd of Shiite Muslim pilgrims in northeastern Baghdad on Monday, killing 54 and wounding 109, marking the latest in a string of attacks that have unnerved the city ahead of pivotal national elections in March.
The bomber hid the explosives under her voluminous abaya, or black cloak, and detonated them among pilgrims gathered at a hospitality tent in the neighborhood of Bab al-Shams. The dead included five women employed to search female pilgrims for bombs, police said.
Taxi driver Ahmad Najem, 30, who witnessed the attack, described seeing a huge fireball erupt from the tent followed by the wails of injured pilgrims. "I saw the bodies of women and children, and bags and slippers strewn all around in pools of blood," said Najem.
The pilgrims were among hundreds of thousands setting off to walk to the Shiite holy city of Karbala to mark the Arbayeen, or 40th, which commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, a seventh century figure revered by Shiites.
Such public displays of Shiite religiosity were banned during Saddam Hussein's reign. Since his ouster in 2003, it has become customary for millions of pilgrims to make the traditional journey on foot to Imam Hussein's shrine.
It also has become customary for insurgents to attack the pilgrims along the way, and Monday's attack echoed one a year earlier in which a suicide bomber killed 40 pilgrims, also at a hospitality tent.
It was also the fifth suicide bombing in Baghdad in a week and underscored the seeming inability of Iraq's security forces to prevent large-scale attacks, even as security conditions overall appear to have improved.
Even as word spread of yet another attack, the command's spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta al-Moussawi, announced that "a large number" of 134 officers and soldiers who were under investigation in the wake of last week's attacks would face court-martial for negligence and dereliction of duty.
He also told Iraqis and officials to be vigilant. In a statement, he said that insurgents had developed "new highly explosive formulas" to avoid detection.
Information from the New York Times was used this report.