Suicide bomber kills 15 Shi'ite Muslim worshippers in Iraq

BAQUBA, Iraq (AFP) - A suicide bomber struck a Shi'ite Muslim procession north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 15 worshippers and wounding 65, security and medical officials said.

The attack, north of the restive Diyala provincial capital Baquba, came as Shi'ites marked the climax of Ashura, one of the holiest days of their faith.

The bomber struck a procession in the Shi'ite-majority Saadiyah area of the confessionally mixed province.

It was the second attack of the day to target Shi'ite worshippers. Earlier, coordinated blasts in the Hafriyah area, south of Baghdad, killed nine people and wounded dozens, police and medical sources said.

Millions of Shi'ite pilgrims, many from abroad, gathered in Iraq's shrine cities on Thursday for the climax of Ashura, a festival that has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni militants in the past.

The holiday marks the killing of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, at the hands of soldiers of the caliph Yazid in 680AD.

His death in the city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, has come to symbolise the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shi'ites.