Suicide bomb kills 47 and wounds 100 at funeral in Shia mosque

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A suicide bomber struck a Shia mosque during a funeral in Mosul, northern Iraq, yesterday, killing at least 47 people and wounding more than 100.

A suicide bomber struck a Shia mosque during a funeral in Mosul, northern Iraq, yesterday, killing at least 47 people and wounding more than 100.

"As we were inside the mosque, we saw a ball of fire and heard a huge explosion," said Tahir Abdullah Sultan, 45, one of the mourners at the mosque in the Tel Afar district of the city. "After that, blood and pieces of flesh were scattered around the place."

Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, about 220 miles north of Baghdad, has become a centre of intense guerrilla activity in recent months. Iraqi officials identify it as a major centre for money and weapons coming across the Syrian border. They also suspect many of the fighters thought to have fled Fallujah before the US assault in November travelled to Mosul.

Shia mosques and funerals have become targets for insurgents. A wave of bombings last month during the celebration of Ashoura, the holiest day in the Shia religious calendar, killed about 100. At the behest of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest ranking Shia cleric in the country, the Shia have largely abstained from taking revenge against minority Sunnis, who make up the largest group involved with the insurgency.

Many Shia identify their attackers not simply as Sunnis but as former members of the now-banned Baath party of Saddam Hussein or as Salafists, members of a radical strain of Sunni Islam, similar to that preached by Osama bin Laden. Salafists view Shias as apostates.

Mosul was largely quiet until last year, when the US military's 101st Airborne Division withdrew from the area. The 101st, which had been responsible for the area since the invasion in 2003, had maintained about 20,000 troops in the area, and was replaced by a force of about 8,000. At the time, Mosul residents expressed fear the withdrawal might lead to chaos.

In a second attack in Mosul yesterday, insurgents killed the son of the city's police chief, Mohammed Ahmed al-Jabouri. Mr Jabouri has become well-known in Iraq for his television appearances ­ issuing threats and deadlines to insurgents, and also on a programme on the country's state-run station in which captured insurgents confess to crimes, often in the presence of victims' families.

While the US-backed interim government set up a new Iraqi police force, army and security service, there is little sign of success in quelling insurgencies. Violence has raged as Iraqi politicians struggle to form a new government following the January elections, which gave Shias power after decades of Sunni control.

Yesterday's attacks coincided with warnings from politicians that a proposed alliance between the Shias and the Kurdish parties to form Iraq's next government may be in jeopardy with the most sensitive issues unresolved. The two parliamentary groups, which have two-thirds of the seats needed to form a government between them, have been afflicted by disagreements which have stalled negotiations and left the nation in political limbo.

Meanwhile, the violence yesterday was not confined to Mosul. In Baghdad, gunmen killed at least five police officers in two separate incidents. Mr Jabouri said insurgents dressed in police uniforms had set up a checkpoint in a southern Baghdad neighbourhood to mount one of the attacks. He also said a high-ranking ministry of interior official was injured in an assassination attempt.

Gunmen in two cars opened fire on a pick-up truck in central Baghdad carrying Colonel Ahmed Abeis, the head of the Salihiyah police station, killing him, his driver and a guard.

Police in western Iraq found the bodies of four Iraqi soldiers dumped by insurgents on the highway near the town of Rutba, adding to the death toll of 41 security force men whose bodies ­ some shot, others beheaded ­ were found earlier this week.