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Scores killed in Iraq blasts

Smoke fills the air as pilgrims run after explosions rocked Karbala.
Smoke fills the air as pilgrims run after explosions rocked Karbala.

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CNN's Brent Sadler reports on a series of powerful explosions that rocked a Shiite Ashoura festival in Karbala, Iraq.
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Angry Iraqis throw stones at U.S. troops in the aftermath of the deadly explosions at a Baghdad mosque.
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CNN's Jane Arraf describes the scene after explosions ripped through an Ashoura celebration in Baghdad.
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BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A series of simultaneous explosions ripped through neighborhoods of Baghdad and the Shiite holy city of Karbala Tuesday, killing scores of people and injuring hundreds, Iraqi officials said.

The attacks came on the Ashoura holiday, one of the holiest days for Shia Muslims.

As many as 85 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded in the attacks in Karbala, according to sources at the Hussein hospital in the holy Shiite city.

At least 56 people were killed in the Baghdad attacks and at least 200 injured, according to Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim, the Iraqi deputy interior minister.

In Pakistan, meanwhile, several Shiites were reported killed when gunmen opened fire on their religious procession in Quetta. (Full story)

In Iraq, video showed dozens of bodies -- many dismembered and burned beyond recognition -- and scores of wounded. (Full story)

Iraqi police patrolled the streets trying to restore order as U.S. military helicopters circled overhead.

In Baghdad, pilgrims had filled neighborhood streets the religious ceremony when the attacks took place.

"We don't know exactly what happened yet, whether it was an explosion or a mortar round," said Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling of the U.S. Army. "It may have been a suicide bomber. We're just not sure."

Hertling said it is believed hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims were on the streets at the time of the blasts.

"Coalition Forces are working closely with the Iraqi Security Forces to respond to this morning's events. We are working to provide medical support to the wounded as quickly as possible," said Maj. David Gercken of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division. "Those initiating these attacks are cowards and terrorists."

At least least one explosion detonated in al-Kadamiya mosque, killing a number of people, including women and children, the mosque's Iman said.

Grenade fragments were found in the mosque's courtyard, and authorities said there is a strong indication that the blast in Kadimiyah was due to improvised explosive devices and grenades. Initially, authorities had thought the mosque was hit by rockets.

The Imam blamed foreigners, saying Iraqis would never conduct such attacks. He criticized the U.S. military for not providing adequate security.

Gercken quickly took issue with the Imam.

"[We] can confirm that the incidents this morning are in no way a result of any military operation or action by military forces," Gercken said. "It is regrettable that some would try to disrupt the demonstration of new freedoms by the progressing Iraqi people."

Pools of blood filled the courtyard of the mosque. A child's toy was left abandoned on the ground.

CNN staff reported piles of bodies stacked into pickup trucks as the sounds of ambulances echoed through the city streets.

Angry pilgrims began throwing stones at Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers, Arraf said.

In Karbala, a series of up to nine explosions were heard about two miles from the city center.

Iraqi police said two explosions were the work of suspected suicide bombers and two others from improvised explosive devices.

An unexploded device containing 2 kilograms (5 pounds) of explosives was found near Karbala's Baghdad Gate, the scene of at least one other fiery blast.

Video from the scene showed blood-soaked streets littered with body parts, bodies burning and pilgrims running in panic from the blast sites.

Polish soldiers from the coalition ring the city but were not inside the city, where Iraqi police were responsible for order.

Although separated by about 50 miles, the attacks in Baghdad and Karbala took place at about the same time, starting around 10 a.m. (2 a.m. ET) and leading to speculation that the explosions may have been coordinated.

Religious leaders in both cities called on people to donate blood for the injured.

In Karbala, Ashoura celebrations continued despite the mayhem.

"I think its way too early to even make a conjecture about that," Hertling said. "I'm certain there were some elements that were trying to disrupt the holy holiday."

Banned for more than 30 years under former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein -- a Sunni Muslim, the Ashoura holiday is the holiest day on the Shiite Muslim calendar. (Full story)

Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, an Iraqi Governing Council Member, pinned the attacks on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian suspected of writing a letter to al Qaeda leadership seeking help to combat the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Iraqis who work with it, possibly with the idea of provoking a civil war between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

The letter was found in a January raid conducted by the U.S. military in the central Iraqi town of Habbaniya

"There is no shadow of doubt in my mind this is a message to the Iraqi people from Zarqawi," al-Rubaie said, "but it's written in blood now.

"I can tell you and he can hear that we will not react in a sectarian way. His intention and his goal of inciting violence and fomenting a civil war in this country will fail disastrously."

Al-Rubaie said he can see the fingerprints of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and Zarqawi in Tuesday's attacks.

"It's quite obvious this is a synchronized attack," he said. "This has been chosen to incite sectarianism in this country.

There is no [true] Muslim who can attack civilians indiscriminately, celebrating their holiest day in their holiest places."

During the January raid, the U.S. military said it intercepted the suspected-Zarqawi letter with an al Qaeda courier. The letter's author claims responsibility for attacks in Iraq.

In the raid, coalition forces found bomb-making material, suicide vests, passport materials, electronic components, pro-Saddam Hussein material and pictures of Zarqawi in the house where an aide was staying.

-- CNN Correspondents Jane Arraf and Brent Sadler contributed to this report


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