AFP, SAMARRA, Iraq
Two bombs tore through worshippers gathering for prayers at a Sunni mosque in Iraq on Friday, killing 18 people, while seven died in other attacks, officials said.
Militants have carried out numerous attacks on both Sunni and Shiite mosques this year, raising fears of a return to the all-out sectarian conflict that peaked in 2006 and 2007, and killed thousands of people.
The bombs, which hit the Musab bin Omair mosque near Samarra, north of Baghdad, also wounded 21 people, police and a doctor said.
“A huge explosion happened and everything around us was thrown in the air,” Zaid Abdulwahid, a 26-year-old who was wounded in the blasts, said at the main hospital in Samarra.
Questions for Abdulwahid had to be shouted, as his hearing was damaged by the explosions.
“We never expected that the mosque would be targeted,” said Othman Ahmed, 23, another of the wounded.
He said he initially could not see anything after the blasts, but then noticed he was surrounded by dead and wounded people.
The February 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra itself sparked the wave of brutal sectarian violence that plagued Iraq in past years.
The blasts came a day after the bodies of 10 young men who had been shot dead were found in Baghdad, another reminder of the sectarian conflict, during which militants frequently carried out summary executions.
Other violence struck the Samarra area on Friday, with a mortar round killing a mother and her young daughter and wounding her husband near the mosque that was bombed.
In the northern province of Kirkuk, gunmen kidnapped and killed a soldier, while a roadside bomb north of the city of Baquba killed one person and wounded three.
A doctor was killed in an attack in Baghdad, while a bombing against a police colonel’s convoy in the northern city of Mosul killed a woman and wounded 12 people, including the officer.
UN Deputy Special Representative for Iraq Gyorgy Busztin expressed “extreme concern” this week about sectarian-based displacement of Sunnis and members of the small Shabak minority, and the killing of Sunnis in the country’s south.
“The use of violence and intimidation against communities by illegal armed groups forcing them to flee their homes is unacceptable and a clear violation of basic human rights,” Busztin said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who heads Iraq’s Shiite-majority government, condemned the trend as he met with displaced Sunni families this week.
He said members of the Sunni al-Saadun clan had been driven out of Nasiriyah, Basra and Kut, all Shiite-majority areas.
A Western diplomat said “ethnic cleansing is taking place each day. There are more and more attacks aimed at widening the rift” between Iraqi communities.
In the port city of Basra, gunmen have shot dead 15 Sunnis since the start of the month, including a cleric and mosque employees, according to Abdulkarim al-Khazraji, a representative of the local Sunni community.
“Messages have been left in envelopes at night near Sunni mosques telling Sunnis to leave Basra” or face revenge attacks for violence against Shiites in the northern city of Mosul.