These days again thousands of Shi’ite pilgrims make their way to Kerbala to mark the birth of the 12th Shi’a Imam Muhammad Al-Mahdi (15th Sha’aban 255 AH). It seems to be common now that, at least in Iraq, these religious festivals demand an unacceptable blood shed. Yesterday, a roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad struck a minibus packed with pilgrims. Last year, gun battles in Kerbala between rival Shi’a Muslim factions left more than 50 dead.
But on Thursday this week, a suicide attack in a town near Iskandariya south of Iraq’s capital has again killed at least 19 people, leaving another 75 wounded. Two female suicide bombers blew themselves and their victims, who had stopped their walks for evening meal, with explosives which they had hidden under their abayas. This is not even three weeks after three female suicides had killed 25 pilgrims on the occasion of the Kadhimiya festival in Baghdad.
Since the fall of Iraq’s tyrant Saddam Hussein in April 2003, mainly Sunni Arab militants targeted also religious festivals which have become shows for the Iraq’s Shi’a majority in recent years. In 2005, on the occasion of the Kadhimiya, nearly 1000 people died in a stampede on a bridge over the river Tigris which was triggered by rumors of a suicide bomber among the pilgrims. But this year’s increase in bombings by women (almost 30 this year as compared to eight in 2007) is in fact alarming. It is an especially abhorrent act of probably Al Qaeda militants deploying female bombers because explosives can be easily hidden beneath loosely fitting robes and male police officers cannot search for it.
Last month, a number of female police graduates were recruited to a special unit of, called “Banat al-Iraq” or Daughters of Iraq. They are supposed to approach young women thought to be vulnerable to Islamist manipulation, and persuade them that suicide operations are wrong.