Almotamar.net, afp - BAGHDAD (AFP) — Three women bombers blew themselves up on Monday in a crowd of Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad, one of a string of attacks in Iraq that killed at least 56 people, undermining hopes of a drop in violence.
Scores of people were also wounded in the attacks, which came after a relative lull in the sectarian violence that has ravaged Iraq since February 2006, when insurgents blew up a Shiite mosque in the central city of Samarra.
The triple attack in Baghdad killed at least 25 pilgrims as they headed to a holy shrine for a major religious ceremony on the Shiite Muslim calendar that has been marred by bloodshed in the past, security officials said.
Another 27 people died and 126 others were wounded in a suicide bombing during a protest rally in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, and by gunfire in a panicked stampede that followed, local officials said.
Among the dead in Baghdad were women and children, security and hospital officials told AFP, adding that about 70 other people were wounded.
The violence was condemned by the White House.
"The United States condemns the violent attacks on innocent Iraqis," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
"We urge the Iraqi people and government to respond with calm determination to the threat from violent extremists who seek to destabilise the country."
The bombers struck in the Karrada district of central Baghdad as pilgrims were making their way on foot towards Kadhimiyah in the north of the city, site of a Shiite festival on Tuesday.
"At least 25 people were killed and more than 70 were wounded in three suicide attacks, probably by female suicide bombers," a police official said.
On Sunday, gunmen shot dead seven pilgrims in Madin, a town south of Baghdad, despite tight security for Tuesday's ceremony honouring revered imam Mussa Kadhim that is expected to attract up to one million worshippers.
Pilgrims from around the country are flocking to Baghdad to mourn the revered imam who died 12 centuries ago, prompting authorities to step up security amid concern over attacks.
Systematic violence -- suicide bombings and sectarian killings -- has dropped sharply in the capital since a peak in 2006, but police fear a wave of attacks in the city of six million people.
Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for city security, told reporters that his force had information that this year's pilgrims may be targeted.
"We ask people to help in all ways with our security forces," Atta said, adding that up to one million people were expected.
Checks have been particularly stringent amid what appears to be growing trend of using women in insurgent bombings, which have claimed hundreds of lives across the volatile country.
The attack in Kirkuk targeted a crowd of people who were protesting against a controversial provincial election law, police said.
The suicide bomber detonated his explosives amid the crowd, causing a stampede which prompted guards to open fire, officials said.
"The victims were people who ran away after the explosion, and guards opened fire, shooting into the air," said Najat Hassam, a senior member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
"More people then responded to the gunfire with more shooting."
Kirkuk is often the scene of communal tensions among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens, and the latest violence was sparked by protests over the controversial legislation for planned provincial elections.
The draft bill is currently being reviewed by the Iraqi parliament but many Kurdish and Shiite ministers oppose it.
Kurds in particular are worried that the law will fail to address issues on how the provincial council of Kirkuk should be constituted.
The question is important to them because it could affect ownership of the northern province's oil resources, claimed by both Arabs and Kurds.
Meanwhile a key Sunni political party sought to distance itself from the violence in Kirkuk. Sunnis have often been linked to the Al-Qaeda insurgency.
"This criminal act came at a sensitive and critical time when discussions about the destiny of the Kirkuk have been in focus," the Iraqi Islamic Party of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi said. "We condemn the act."
Another three men and a woman were killed on Monday in a roadside bombing near Baquba north of Baghdad, police said.