Middle East

Iraq suicide blast kills 15 at Shia funeral in Baquba

Baquba map

A suicide attack has killed at least 15 people at a Shia funeral in Baquba, north of Baghdad, officials say.

Another 40 people were wounded in the blast in the city centre, according to police and hospital sources.

A wave of bombings aimed at Muslim Shia pilgrims and religious sites has killed more than 130 people in Iraq since the beginning of June.

On Saturday, two car bombs targeting Shia pilgrims killed at least 32 people in the capital Baghdad.

The suicide bomber in Baquba detonated his explosive belt in a tent where Shias had gathered to mourn a tribal chief early on Monday evening, a police source said.

About 150 people, including senior politicians and security officials, were present in the tent, Sadiq al-Hussaini, the head of Diyala province's ruling council, told the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Husseini blamed the attack on Sunni militants linked to al-Qaeda.

"Absolutely this is the way of al-Qaeda - targeting innocent people to ignite sectarian unrest," he said.

The head of the Iraqi army's ground forces, Lt-Gen Ali Ghaidan, was among the mourners, but was unhurt, according to AP.

Powerful blast

"The bomber came in through a side entrance in one tent. When he blew himself up, all I could see was dust and people being thrown back by the pressure of the blast," policeman Abbas Ali, who was among the mourners, told the Reuters news agency.

The force of the blast could be heard and felt 2km (1.2 miles) away, farmer Saif al-Tamimi told the agency.

The recent upsurge in violence has sparked fears of a return to the sectarian conflict that beset Iraq in the years after the 2003 US-led invasion.

It comes as Iraq's most prominent Sunni Arab politician, Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, is being tried in absentia on charges of funding death squads targeting Shia officials. He denies the accusations.

Iraq's Shia Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, has faced calls for a confidence motion in parliament from parties within his national unity government, which have accused him of concentrating power in his hands.

Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, was major focus of Sunni insurgent activity during the civil war.

While the number of attacks has fallen since the height of the violence in 2005-7, the security situation deteriorated again after the withdrawal of US troops last December.

The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni militant umbrella group and al-Qaeda affiliate, has said it carried out many of the recent bombings.