A suicide bomber made his way into a Shiite mosque north of Baghdad and blew himself up in the middle of a funeral on Wednesday, killing 42 people and leaving corpses scattered across the floor.
The attack, the deadliest in six months, is likely to heighten tensions as Iraq grapples with a political crisis and more than a month of protests in Sunni-majority areas that have hardened opposition to Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
No group claimed responsibility, but Sunni militants often launch attacks in a bid to destabilize the government and push Iraq back toward the sectarian violence that blighted it from 2005 to 2008.
The bomber struck at the Sayid al-Shuhada Mosque in Tuz Khormato, 175km north of Baghdad, and targeted the funeral of a relative of a politician who was shot dead a day earlier.
“Corpses are on the ground of the Husseiniyah [Shiite mosque],” Tuz Khormato Mayor Shallal Abdul said. “The suicide bomber managed to enter and blow himself up in the middle of the mourners.”
Heavy security measures were taken outside the mosque, while throngs of residents waited outside the city’s hospital for news about their relatives, a journalist said.
Shiite mosques in the confessionally-mixed city issued calls over loudspeakers for locals to help with burying the dead in a mass grave.
Niyazi Moamer Oghlu, secretary-general of the council of Saladin Province, where Tuz Khormato is located, put the toll from the attack at 42 dead and 75 wounded.
Among those hurt were officials and tribal leaders, including Ali Hashem Oghlu, the deputy chief of the Iraqi Turkman Front, and a provincial councilor in Saladin.
The funeral had been for Oghlu’s brother-in-law, who was killed in Tuz on Tuesday.
Tuz Khormato lies in a tract of disputed territory that Kurdistan wants to incorporate into its autonomous three-province region against the wishes of the central government in Baghdad.
The row is regarded by diplomats and officials as the greatest long-term threat to Iraq’s stability.
The death toll from Wednesday’s blast was the highest from a single attack since a series of bombings north of Baghdad on July 23 last year killed 42 people.