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Insurgents target Iraqi pilgrims ahead of U.S. withdrawal

BAGHDAD — Insurgents in Iraq targeted Shiite Muslim pilgrims on their way to the sacred city of Karbala to commemorate a religious holiday on Monday, killing at least eight and wounding 49, security officials said.

In other violence across Iraq, four improvised explosive devices in Baghdad province targeted pilgrims in the Zafarahiya, Ur, Mashtal and Mahmoudiyah districts, killing three and wounding 16. In Hilla, the former capital of Babel province, bombs killed five and injured another 33 pilgrims.

Violence normally accompanies the annual Ashoura religious holiday, but Monday's attacks came just weeks before the last U.S. troops are scheduled to depart Iraq.

Shiite pilgrims flock to Karbala during the holy month of Muharram to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite religious leader. They come on foot from all over the country, and although Iraqi security authorities typically plan and secure the most common routes, pilgrims remain easy prey for the insurgents' explosive devices.

Still, pilgrims' resolve remains strong.

"I am proud that my son is committed to his belief. He knows the danger, but it only makes him stronger," said Manal Hasigh of Baghdad, the mother of three young men. "Those who die for Imam Hussein are happy martyrs."

(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent)

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