Four suicide attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk have killed at least 57 people and wounded scores more, reminding Iraqis that things aren't as safe as their government and U.S. officials would have them believe.
On Monday, three female suicide bombers blew themselves up in Baghdad near Shiite pilgrims marching toward the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadham. The march, which ends Tuesday, is an annual rite for Shiites who are commemorating the death of their revered saint. The pilgrimage has also become a favorite target for insurgents trying to shake people's faith in their government and stir up sectarian strife. For days, Iraqi officials tried to tell citizens that this year's observance would be different. But now, officials are bracing for even more trouble Tuesday.
After Monday's blasts, Iraqi police officers and soldiers quickly tightened checkpoints and imposed a ban on car use in Baghdad. Critics of the Iraqi government say the attacks underscore why security in Iraq is still a concern.
"We have said from the beginning that the security situation is very fragile," says Sunni lawmaker Salih al Muttlaq, a frequent critic of the Shiite-led government. "The violence could come back again at any time."
The attacks, however, did little to deter Shiite pilgrims, who continued marching toward the shrine. By Tuesday, their numbers are expected to reach 1 million.
"Even if there are threats, we sacrifice ourselves to God," says Abbas Kadham, 40, who has walked from the city of Kut 70 miles away.
In the northern, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, it was politics that drew Monday's suicide bomber.
The attacker targeted a crowd of Kurdish demonstrators who were protesting a controversial law passed last week that paves the way for local elections to be held everywhere except in Kirkuk.
Anmar Ismail, a local radio correspondent who witnessed the attack, says he was hit by shrapnel in his left leg. He says local security forces began firing their guns, adding to the chaos.
The blast prompted some protesters to try to storm a nearby political office of rival Turkmen, whom they blamed for the attack.
Authorities have imposed a curfew on both cities in hopes of preventing further violence.