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Suicide bombing by female kills 54 in Iraq

A female suicide bomber killed at least 54 people yesterday after detonating an explosives belt among a group of Shia pilgrims in the Iraqi capital.

The bombing was the first major strike this year against pilgrims making their way to the southern city of Karbala to mark a Shia holy day.

It raises fears of an escalation of attacks as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims mark the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shia figure.

The bomber hid the explosives underneath an abaya — a black cloak worn from head to toe by women — as she joined the group in Baghdad's Shia-dominated suburb of Shaab. The 54 dead included 18 women and 12 children, while 117 people were wounded.

Witnesses described a chaotic scene in the minutes following the blast.

Raheem Kadhom (35) was standing about 150 yards away when he saw a huge fireball erupt among the pilgrims.

They were “on the ground, covered in blood and crying for help,” he said.

Despite an overall decline in violence in Iraq, al Qaida and other Sunni extremists have routinely targeted pilgrims in an attempt to stoke sectarian strife and weaken the Shiite-dominated government.

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