The village of al-Asriya, south of Baghdad, yesterday prepared to bury its sons killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up after a soccer tournament.
The attacker, who looks like a teenager in a photograph distributed by the Islamic State group, which claimed the attack, cut through the crowd when trophies were being presented.
“There are 32 dead and also 84 wounded, 12 of whom are in critical condition,” a Babil Governorate health directorate official told reporters.
“Seventeen of those killed are boys aged between 10 and 16,” the official said.
The village is near Iskandariya, a town about 40km south of the capital.
The US Department of State condemned the suicide bombing and sent condolences to the bereaved.
“The United States remains committed in its support to the Iraqi people and the unity of Iraq,” Department of State spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said in a statement.
Pictures posted on social media of the blast site showed mangled goal posts smeared with blood.
“The suicide bomber cut through the crowd to approach the center of the gathering and blew himself up as the mayor was presenting awards to the players,” 18-year-old eyewitness Ali Nashmi said.
The mayor, Ahmed Shaker, was among the dead.
“The mayor died in hospital as a result of the serious wounds he suffered in the blast,” a medic at Iskandariya hospital said, adding that one of Shaker’s bodyguards and at least five members of the security forces were also among those killed.
The Islamic State promptly released a statement on social media claiming responsibility for the attack and posted a picture of the purported bomber.
“Our knight immersed into their crowds, until he detonated his belt, turning them into scattered parts,” the statement said, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The bomber was named as Saifullah al-Ansari. The Islamic State said in its statement that the blast had killed more than 60 and wounded more than 100.
Haidar Kadhem, 20, survived the explosion.
“I was maybe 50m from the spot. The blast was extremely loud,” he told reporters by telephone.
“Most of the crowd were young people, I could see them strewn across the field, some dead, others wounded, asking for help. It was just chaos,” he said.
Iskandariya is part of a mixed Sunni-Shiite area south of Baghdad that was once dubbed “the triangle of death” and has been badly affected by sectarian violence over the past decade.
Pushing back the Islamic State in this region after the extremists took over large parts of the country in 2014 was one of the priorities of the government and allied Shiite militias.
That was achieved in a few months and the extremist group has been largely eradicated from the area, but violence — sectarian and criminal — remains frequent.
The extremist group has steadily been losing territory in Iraq for almost a year. In the most recent operations, Iraqi forces have been gaining ground in western Anbar Governorate and have just begun their reconquest of the Nineveh Governorate.
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