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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Insurgents Attack Shiite Pilgrims in Iraq

HILLA, Iraq -- Insurgents killed 112 Shiite pilgrims streaming to the holy Iraqi city of Kerbala on Tuesday, including nearly 80 after two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowded street lined with tents.

The U.S. military announced on Tuesday the death of nine U.S. soldiers in two bomb attacks north of Baghdad, the deadliest day for U.S. forces since they started a security crackdown in the capital three weeks ago.

The attacks, occurring just over one year since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra, are likely to increase sectarian tensions between majority Shiites and Sunni Arabs that are pushing the country toward civil war.

In the worst of the incidents, two suicide bombers strapped with explosives detonated themselves in the city of Hilla, south of Baghdad, killing 78 people, police said. Tents offering food, drinks and resting areas for the pilgrims lined the busy street.

"I saw one of the suicide bombers. He was about 40 years old. He blew himself up and I saw parts of bodies flying around," said a witness, who declined to give his name.

Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed Sunni militants for what he called a "barbaric crime," a statement carried by Al-Iraqiya state television said. Security in Hilla had been tight for fear of a repetition of suicide bombings and attacks against Shiite religious rituals by suspected Sunni insurgents of the sort that killed 171 people in Baghdad and Kerbala in March 2004.

Insurgents also attacked pilgrims in and around Baghdad, defying a major U.S.-Iraqi crackdown by Maliki aimed at wresting control of the capital's streets from militants.

In other attacks, a car bomb in the southern Baghdad district of Doura killed 12 people, police said.

Masses of Shiite pilgrims are heading on foot and buses to to Kerbala to commemorate Arbain, the end of a 40-day mourning period since Ashura, which marks the death of Prophet Mohammad's grandson in 680. Kerbala, one the holiest cities in Shiite Islam, lies 110 kilometers south of Baghdad. Hilla is nearby.

U.S. military commanders had warned that militants might launch assaults outside Baghdad, where more than 90,000 Iraqi and U.S. troops have intensified operations to rein in violence

In one of the worst two attacks Monday against U.S. forces, six soldiers were killed and three were wounded by a blast near their vehicles in Salahaddin province, a Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold north of Baghdad.