32 Shiite Pilgrims Killed in Baghdad

BAGHDAD -- A suicide car bomber rammed a truck carrying Shiite pilgrims returning from a major religious commemoration Sunday, killing at least 32 people one day after Iraqi leaders warned that sectarian violence could eventually spread around the region.

The truck was among the convoys ferrying Shiites home from Karbala in southern Iraq, where millions gathered over the weekend, celebrating the ceremony and mourning the deaths of hundreds of pilgrims killed by suspected Sunni extremists last week.

Attacks on other pilgrim vehicles killed at least five people in Baghdad. In northern Iraq, a suicide bomber attacked the offices of Iraq's biggest Sunni political party, killing three guards.

The truck was bringing about 70 men and boys home when it was blasted by the car bomber in central Baghdad. At least 24 people were injured, police and hospital officials said.

One of the pilgrims, Nasir Sultan, said he was thrown from the truck by the blast. "I could see lots of burned bodies," he said.

Another pilgrim, Mustafa Moussawi, 31, said the group felt safe after crossing from Sunni-dominated areas and reaching central Baghdad.

"Then the car bomber slammed us from behind," said Moussawi, who suffered injuries to his right hand and shoulder. "I blame the government. They didn't provide a safe route for us even though they knew we were targets for attack."

Iraqi security officials have struggled to protect the annual pilgrimage to mark the end of 40 days mourning for the seventh-century battlefield death of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson. Shiites consider him the rightful heir of Islam's leadership, which cemented the rift with Sunni Muslims.

Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, appealed Saturday for international aid to fight sectarian bloodshed at the opening of a gathering of neighbors and world powers, which included rare diplomatic exchanges between the United States and Iran.

He told delegates that Iraq's strife could spill across the Middle East if not quelled.

The attack on the Iraqi Islamic Party's office came as politicians were leaving a reception, party member Mohammed Shakir al-Ghanam said. Three guards were killed and two were wounded, he said.

The reason for the attack was not immediately clear. The party is the only Sunni political movement with a national base.

Mosul, about 360 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, also has witnessed a rise in suspected Sunni insurgent attacks, including a reported raid on a prison last week that allowed nearly 150 prisoners to escape. Most were quickly captured.

The attacks followed a suicide car bombing Saturday in Baghdad's main Shiite militia stronghold, Sadr City. The blast at a checkpoint killed 20 people, including at least six Iraqi soldiers.

But the attacks carried additional worries for U.S.-led troops, who entered Sadr City last week under a carefully negotiated deal with political allies of the al-Mahdi Army militia, led by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.