Sectarian unrest: At least 40 dead in Iraq shrine attack

Mortar assault launched before suicide bombers blew up.


Afp July 09, 2016
A member loyal to the Islamic State waves an IS flag. PHOTO: REUTERS

BAGHDAD: At least 40 people were killed in attack on a shrine in northern Iraq just days after one of the deadliest ever bombings in the country, a security spokesman said on Friday.

Militants targeted the Sayyid Mohammed shrine in the town of Balad, some 70 kilometres north of capital Baghdad, Joint Operations Command spokesman Yahya Rasool told AFP. The attack began on Thursday evening.

“The shrine was attacked with mortar fire, then by suicide bombers wearing security force uniforms,” he said. Security forces fired on the bombers, who were not able to enter the shrine, and two of them blew themselves up, while a third was shot dead, Rasool added.

The attack sparked a fire that caused heavy damage to the market near the shrine, an AFP journalist reported.

According to health ministry spokesman Ahmed al Rudaini, at least 40 people were killed in the attack and another 74 were wounded.

Islamic State said it carried out the attack on the shrine in Balad as well as Sunday's bombing which killed 292 people, one of the deadliest to ever hit Iraq.

"It is clear the cowardly attack on the shrine aims to spark sectarian tensions and drag Iraq back to the dark days of sectarian conflict," Jan Kubis, the UN's top Iraq envoy, said in a statement.

Baghdad security chiefs sacked

Hours after the latest attack, the Iraqi premier sacked three Baghdad security chiefs over Sunday’s bombing in the capital.

Prime Minister Haider al Abadi issued "an order to relieve the Baghdad Operations commander of his position," as well as remove the officials responsible for intelligence and security in the capital, his office said. An official in PM’s office said the others removed were the head of interior ministry intelligence for Baghdad and the official responsible for the capital in the national security adviser's office.

Police Major General Talib Khalil Rahi said on Thursday that the suicide bomber detonated a minibus loaded with plastic explosives and ammonium nitrate.

He said blast killed a limited number of people, but flames spread and trapped people inside shopping centres that lacked emergency exits.

Authorities announced the execution of five convicts and the arrest of 40 militants.

People, however, have been furious over delays in determining the fate of their loved ones, and with the number of unidentified bodies.

On Thursday, Health Minister Adila Hamoud said the bodies of 115 killed in the Baghdad bombing on Sunday had now been handed over to families. Two days earlier, when the full scale of the death toll had yet to emerge, the minister had said the process of identification would take between 15 to 45 days.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2016.

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