BAGHDAD — Militants unleashed a flurry of deadly attacks against Shiite targets in Iraq on Monday, including a quadruple car bombing near two of the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam, and a suicide attack inside a mosque, officials said.
The four car bombs were detonated in Karbala on the periphery of a pedestrian-only area encircling the shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas, killing 22 and wounding 51, officials said.
Those attacks roughly coincided with a symbolically important meeting in Najaf, another holy Shiite city in southern Iraq, between Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric. The meeting was widely viewed as a demonstration of support for al-Abadi. Al-Sistani had not met with al-Abadi’s predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, for the last few years, which was interpreted by many as a sign of dissatisfaction with the administration.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in Karbala but suspicion fell most heavily on the Sunni-led Islamic State, which has deployed car bombs and suicide bombers with increasing frequency in recent weeks, most often targeting Shiite neighborhoods.
Two of the cars were in parking lots where worshippers leave their vehicles before walking to the shrines, officials said. The other two were detonated along busy commercial streets, officials said.
Nusaif Jassim, head of the Karbala Provincial Council, said the attacks were “a response to the progress” of Iraqi security forces in pushing back the Islamic State in the area around Jurf al-Sakhr, a town strategically located on a corridor between Karbala and militant strongholds in Anbar Province.
In Baghdad, a man shot and killed a guard standing outside a small Shiite mosque crowded with worshippers during midday prayer, forced his way through the door and shot and killed the imam and a worshipper, witnesses and the authorities said. Then the man detonated an explosives belt concealed beneath his oversized shirt, killing another 15 and wounding 33, the authorizes said.
Shortly after midnight, a firefight between a federal police unit and another armed group erupted along a darkened and otherwise empty boulevard of the Karrada neighborhood, Interior Ministry officials said.
Saad Maan, the spokesman, said police had converged on a hotel where “a gang” was holding a kidnap victim. The woman had been kidnapped in Basra about two weeks ago and her captors were demanding a $2.5 million ransom, officials said.
The woman escaped her captors during the shootout, Maan said.