Sun, Aug 24, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Iraq scrambles to ease tensions after mosque ‘massacre’

AFP, BAGHDAD

Shiite Muslim fighters, loyal to Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, take part in a last combat training near the city of Najaf yesterday, before joining the government forces to fight Islamic State (IS) jihadists in the Jurf al-Sakhr area, south of Baghdad.

Photo: AFP

Iraqi officials yesterday worked to calm soaring tensions after the killing of at least 70 people at a Sunni mosque, as Washington branded the beheading of a US journalist a “terrorist attack.”

In the latest violence to hit the crisis-torn country, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle at the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, killing two people, officials said.

Friday’s attack at the mosque in Diyala Province, which most accounts say was the work of Shiite militiamen, threatens to increase anger with the Shiite-led government among Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority at a time when an anti-militant drive depends on their cooperation.

The violence came as the US, which is carrying out air strikes in Iraq against jihadists from the Islamic State extremist group — formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — ramped up its rhetoric over the group’s grisly killing of journalist James Foley, shown in a video posted online.

US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said Foley’s beheading “represents a terrorist attack against our country,” while the UN Security Council condemned the murder as “heinous and cowardly” in an unanimous statement on Friday.

Yesterday, Iraqi Sunni parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi sought to calm sectarian tensions stirred by the bloody attack on the Sunni mosque.

Al-Juburi called for political unity and said “the main aim [of the attack] is to foil all the efforts that have been made to form a government.”

“All the political entities condemned the crime, all of them expressed their anger about what happened,” he said in televised remarks.

“Now we are waiting for practical measures to hold the criminals accountable,” he added.

Iraqi prime minister-designate Haidar al-Abadi, a Shiite, has condemned the attack and called for “citizens to close ranks to deny the opportunity to the enemies of Iraq who are trying to provoke strife.”

Rights group Amnesty International termed the attack a “massacre” and said Iraqi authorities “must properly investigate the unlawful killing of dozens of worshipers.”

Iraqi army and police officers said the attack on the Musab bin Omair Mosque in Diyala came after Shiite militiamen were killed in clashes, while other sources said it followed a roadside bomb near one of their patrols.

Doctors and the officers put the toll from the attack, in which worshipers were sprayed with machine-gun fire, leaving at least 70 dead and 20 wounded.

Two officers had earlier blamed the Islamic State for the attack, saying it had included a suicide bombing — a hallmark of the group — but most accounts pointed to Shiite militiamen.

The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior announced it is investigating the attack, which it said was carried out by two men on a motorbike following a bombing targeting security and volunteer forces in the area.

US Vice President Joe Biden wrote in the Washington Post that Washington would back a system of “functioning federalism” in Iraq as a means to breach the divisions in the country.

The US is prepared to “further enhance” its support for Iraq’s fight against the extremists, Biden added.

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