BAGHDAD — A woman wearing an explosive belt blew herself up near an important Shiite shrine in northern Baghdad on Sunday, killing as many as 40 people — many of them pilgrims — and wounding about 76, police said.
Guards at the shrine thought the suicide bomber was a man, but that didn't change the troubling signs: The attack was the second in eight days to target people in the vicinity of the holy Imam Musa al Kadhim shrine.
On Friday a bombing just south of Baghdad killed at least 30 people in a Sunni area of what had been coined the Triangle of Death,
The attacks, occurring during the month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar and the start of Shiite commemoration of the Battle of Karbala where Hussein, the grandson of the prophet was killed nearly 1400 years ago, are widely viewed as attempts to spark a resurgence of sectarian violence.
.Sunday's bomb detonated as a tour group of Iranian pilgrims walked up to the Bab al Qibla gate of the shrine, the gate that faces in the direction of Mecca and prayer for Muslims.
It was unclear how the person with an explosive vest got through the gates of the shrine, outside of which all visitors are searched.
On Sunday afternoon police quickly cordoned off the area. At the site of the explosion people laid candles and flowers for the dead.
Nearby, Kadhimiyah hospital overflowed with the wounded. Hallways were lined with cots and stretchers.
One nurse who'd tended the wounded from the first and second attacks left at midday, unable to stomach any more.
Outside the hospital, women wept and repeated the refrain of grief and a cry for help:
"God is great."
Provocateurs of sectarian violence won't succeed, said Talib Mohammed, a medical student who lives in Kadhimiyah.
"The two bombings will not make 2009 a bloody year like those in the past of 2005 and 2006. The Iraqi people realized their faults and became wise," he said.
Added Mahdi Muhsin, a Sadr City man worshiping at the shrine: "The Iraqi people learned an expensive lesson that cost us thousands of lives: The sectarian violence was a game."
The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and the U.S. commander Gen. Ray Odierno condemned the two latest bombings in a joint statement.
"These horrific attacks, along with the December 11 suicide bombing in Kirkuk, demonstrate that despite the great progress we have made, Al-Qaeda in Iraq remains a lethal and dangerous threat to innocent men, women and children of all faiths and groups," their statement said.
Special Correspondent Laith Hammoudi contributed to this report.