Iraq crisis: Mosque massacre kills at least 68 Sunni worshippers ahead of talks

The killings threaten talks for an inclusive government to fight Isis militants

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The Independent Online

A sectarian attack at a mosque in a village in Iraq has killed at least 68 minority Sunni Muslims on Friday, just as Baghdad was trying to build a cross-community government to fight Islamic State (Isis) militants.

A morgue official in Diyala province north of Baghdad said 68 people had been killed by Shia militiamen in the sectarian attack staged on the Muslim day of prayer.

Attacks on mosques are acutely sensitive and have unleashed brutal revenge killings and counter attacks in Iraq in the past.

On Saturday, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle into an intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, killing at least eight people.

Two influential Sunni politicians, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jibouri, quickly suspended talks with the main Shia political alliance to form a new government.

Nahida al-Dayani, a Member of Parliament, said about 150 worshippers were at the Imam Wais mosque when the militiamen arrived after a roadside bombing which had targeted a security vehicle.

"It is a new massacre," said Dayani, a Sunni originally from the village where the attack took place.

She told Reuters: "Sectarian militias entered and opened fire at worshippers. Most mosques have no security. Some of the victims were from one family. Some women who rushed to see the fate of their relatives at the mosque were killed."

The deaths are a major setback for Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi, from the majority Shia community, who is seeking support from Sunnis and ethnic Kurds to tackle the Isis insurgency advancing across Iraq.

Earlier this week Isis stoned a man to death in Mosul after one of its self-appointed courts sentenced him for adultery, witnesses said.

Isis released a video this week showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley and threatening the life of fellow hostage Steven Sotloff. Isis said the killing was in response to US airstrikes on Iraq, which have continued this week.

The parents of Mr Foley, who was kidnapped while covering the Syrian civil war, called on Friday for support to free other foreigners still held by Islamic State fighters.

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