BAGHDAD, Iraq – Suicide bombers, one dressed as a woman, blasted worshippers as they left a Shiite mosque after Friday prayers, killing at least 79 people and wounding more than 160 in the deadliest attack in Iraq this year.
The horrific explosions at the Buratha mosque are likely to stoke the already raw tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. The U.S. ambassador warned in an interview published Friday that sectarian civil war in Iraq could inflame the entire Middle East.
“What’s happening here has huge implications for the region and the world,” U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Rescuers raced to and from the mosque, ferrying bodies from the walled compound on blood-soaked wooden pushcarts and loading them onto pickup trucks. City officials urged Iraqis to donate blood for the wounded.
Police said there were two suicide bombings at the mosque.
But Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, the preacher at the mosque and one of the country’s leading politicians, said there were three bombings. One assailant came through the women’s security checkpoint and blew up first, he said.
The preacher, who was not injured, said another raced into the mosque’s courtyard while a third tried to enter his office before they both detonated their explosives.
Al-Sagheer accused Sunni politicians and clerics of waging “a campaign of distortions and lies against the Buratha mosque, claiming that it has Sunni prisoners and mass graves of Sunnis.”
Mainstream Sunni Arab politicians condemned the bombings, calling on all religious and political leaders to come together in the interest of national unity.
Also Friday, the U.S. military reported the deaths of four more American service members, including one who died from wounds suffered in Baghdad. Two Marines and a soldier were killed Thursday.
An Iraqi soldier allegedly shot and killed one of the Marines at a base near the Syrian border, and the Iraqi was then wounded by another Marine, a U.S. statement said.
The attack on the mosque was the second in as many days against a Shiite religious site. On Thursday, a car bomb exploded about 300 yards from the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, killing 10 people. Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, is the most sacred city in Iraq for Shiite Muslims.
No group claimed responsibility for either attack, although suspicion fell on Sunni extremists responsible for numerous bombings against Shiite civilians. The Buratha mosque is affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country’s main Shiite party. The party said the attacks were part of “a war of annihilation” against Shiites.