January 14, 2012 — Updated 1824 GMT (0224 HKT)STORY HIGHLIGHTS
- NEW: Iraqi president and U.S. Embassy condemn the attack
- The incident is the deadliest attack on Shiites since U.S. completed withdrawal
- The death toll has climbed to at least 53 killed, ministry says
- The bomber struck at a police checkpoint outside the city of Basra, officials say
Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) — A suicide bomber disguised as a policeman targeted Shiite pilgrims Saturday outside the southern Iraqi city of Basra, killing at least 53 people and wounding 137, the Interior Ministry said.
The blast was the single deadliest attack on the Shiite community since the U.S. military completed its troops withdrawal from Iraq. A January 5 suicide attack on Shiite pilgrims west of the southern city of Nasiriya killed 44.
Saturday’s bomber struck a police checkpoint near a Shiite mosque where many of the pilgrims were headed to mark a revered holy day, the end of a 40-day mourning period known as Arbaeen, Interior Ministry officials said.
President Jalal Talabani called on security forces to beef up their efforts in protecting the war-torn country.
“In a new attempt to incite sectarian sedition and drive the country to the brink of civil war and to terrorize the people , the terrorist forces have committed a series of heinous crimes that have targeted Imam Hussain pilgrims,” Talabani said.