BAGHDAD — Twin explosions ripped through a crowd of Sunni worshippers outside Baghdad on Friday, an attack which, combined with a second deadly bombing at a Sunni funeral to the south of the capital, deepened fears Iraq may be headed toward a new round of sectarian conflict.
In the first attack, police said a bomb detonated just as the congregation was leaving Friday prayer services at a mosque in Baqouba, a former Sunni insurgent stronghold 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Another explosion went off shortly afterward as people gathered to help the wounded, leaving a total of at least 40 dead and 56 wounded. After the explosions, bloodied bodies lay strewn across the road outside the mosque.
The violence was the latest to hit a Sunni Muslim house of worship, a trend that has been on the rise. About 30 mosques were attacked between mid-April to mid-May, killing at least 65 Sunni worshippers.
Later in the day, a second bombing hit a Sunni funeral, killing seven and wounding 11, police said. Friday’s attacks came after two days of violence mainly in Shiite areas that left 50 dead.
Two medical officials confirmed the casualties. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief reporters.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Iraqis attended the Friday funeral in a southern city of two Shiite fighters killed in Syria. Several such funerals have been held in recent months, the latest sign that that conflict has taken on a sectarian regional dimension.
In oil-rich Basra, mourners carried the coffin of Mohammed Aboud, whom they say was killed by sniper fire near the shrine of Sayida Zeinab outside the Syrian capital Damascus five days earlier.
They said Aboud went to Iran two months ago before flying to Syria in order to join a group of fighters protecting that country’s Shiite shrines against attacks launched by the rebel Free Syrian Army.
For months, Iraqi Shiite fighters have trickled into Syria, where mostly Sunni rebels are fighting a regime dominated by a Shiite offshoot sect. Their relatives say the fighters are drawn by a sense of religious duty to protect the Sayida Zeinab shrine, which marks what is believed to be the grave of the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Iraq remains officially neutral in the Syrian conflict.
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