KARBALA, Iraq (AFP) — A bomb blast near a Shiite shrine in the central Iraq city of Karbala killed at least 43 people on Monday, the city's police chief said.
The attack in Karbala came as US Vice President Dick Cheney visited Baghdad on a surprise trip and met several US and Iraqi leaders to discuss improvements in security across the country.
Brigadier General Raed Shakir said the attack near the revered Shiite shrine of Imam Hussein was a bomb blast and not a suicide attack by a female bomber as reported earlier.
"It was a bomb attack in which 43 people were killed and 73 others wounded," Shakir said at a news conference late Monday.
Karbala medical and police officials earlier said a female bomber detonated her explosives-laden near the shrine among a crowd of people.
"A bomb exploded in the Al-Muqhaiyam street and we have arrested a suspect. He is not from Karbala and we are investigating the attack," Shakir said.
An AFP correspondent at the site said several ambulances and police vehicles ferried victims to hospital following the blast which occurred around 100 metres (yards) from the shrine, located in the centre of the city.
The correspondent said the powerful explosion ripped people apart, sending body parts flying. Many bodies were charred.
Salim Kadhim, spokesman for the Karbala health directorate, said seven Iranian pilgrims were among those wounded in the blast.
Soon after the attack, police in Karbala, 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of Baghdad, imposed an indefinite curfew in the central districts of the city.
Insurgents have targeted the Shiite shrine city on a number of occasions in the past five years.
On April 28 last year, a suicide car bomb attack near the Imam Abbas shrine, a second revered shrine in Karbala, killed more than 70 people and wounded nearly 160.
Two weeks earlier, a similar bomb attack close to the Imam Hussein shrine killed 42 people and wounded scores more.
Karbala was also the site of bloody clashes between Shiite militants and police in August that killed more than 50 people dead and injured hundreds.
The Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was blamed for those clashes after which Sadr ordered a freeze on the activities of the militia, which remains in force.
Iraq has been rocked by a series of bomb attacks in the past few weeks, including suicide attacks carried out by women.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »