Car bombs ripped through crowds near Iraq's shrine city of Karbala on Monday, killing as many as 18 people and wounding dozens in fresh attacks on pilgrims arriving for religious rituals.
The first two attacks occurred in a parking lot near busloads of pilgrims on the eastern outskirts of Karbala, south of Baghdad. There is a vehicle ban in Karbala for the holy period so pilgrims are dropped off at parking lots and walk in.
Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims are descending on the city for Arbaeen ceremonies, held to mark 40 days since the anniversary of the death of the revered seventh century Imam Hussein, which climax on Tuesday.
The attacks come amid a surge of violence in Iraq, with blasts in the past week, including several suicide bombs, killing at least 130 people and wounding scores more, according to an Agence France-Presse count. By comparison, a total of 151 people were killed throughout December.
In other attacks across Iraq on Monday, gunmen killed two anti-Al Qaeda militiamen in the northern city of Kirkuk, while in Baghdad on Monday, a home-made bomb killed Brig. Gen. Thamer Hassan Saleh, who worked for services linked to the prime minister's office, an interior ministry official said.
On Sunday, an Al Qaeda front group in Iraq claimed responsibility for the series of suicide bombings north of Baghdad last week, in Baquba and Tikrit.
The attacks had targeted Iraqi security forces and the provincial council of Diyala, of which Baquba is the capital, that it said was attempting "to spread the Shiite doctrine" in the central Iraqi province.