BAGHDAD — Suicide bombers, including at least three women, struck Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad and Kurdish protesters in the northern city of Kirkuk on Monday, killing at least 57 people — a brutal reminder that mass gatherings remain vulnerable despite vast improvements in security.
The attacks came even though the United States has stepped up efforts to recruit and train women for Iraq's police force and enlist them to join Sunnis fighting al-Qaida. Insurgents increasingly use female bombers because their billowing black robes easily hide explosives and they are less likely to be searched.
U.S. military figures show at least 27 female suicide bombings this year, compared with eight in 2007.
Monday's attacks tapped into two different sets of fears.
The three nearly simultaneous bombings in Baghdad undermined public confidence in recent security gains that have tamped down sectarian bloodshed. The attack in Kirkuk, 180 miles to the north, showed that ethnic rivalries can turn into mass slaughter in a city that is home to Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs and other minorities.
The U.S. military blamed al-Qaida in Iraq for the Baghdad bombings. It was still investigating the Kirkuk attack, underscoring the more complicated nature of the tensions there. But a city police spokesman, Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir, said the terror network was behind that attack as well.
In the Baghdad attack, at least 32 people were killed and more than 100 wounded, Iraqi police and hospital officials said. It was the deadliest attack in the capital since June 17, when a truck bombing killed 63 people in Hurriyah.
The three female bombers were walking among pilgrims streaming toward the golden domed shrine of the eight-century imam, the focus of a major Shiite festival this week.
In Kirkuk, the attack killed at least 25 people and wounded 185, the police spokesman said.
The suicide bomber struck shortly after 11 a.m. as Kurdish demonstrators were gathering to protest a draft provincial elections law that would give them less power in Kirkuk. Kurdish objections to a proposed power-sharing formula have blocked the law from being passed — a move that could delay the nationwide voting until next year.