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Explosion kills 22 Iraqi worshippers

| Friday, July 19, 2013, 8:33 p.m.
Relatives of a slain worshipper grieve over his body during his funeral in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, Iraq, on Friday, July 19, 2013.

BAGHDAD — A bomb hidden in an air conditioner that ripped through a Sunni mosque during midday prayers and other attacks killed at least 26 in Iraq on Friday, extending a wave of violence targeting worshippers during the holy month of Ramadan.

Suicide attacks, car bombings and other violence have killed more than 200 people since the Islamic holy month of daytime fasting and charity began last week, according to an Associated Press count.

The violence is an extension of a surge of attacks that has roiled Iraq for months, reviving fears of a return to the widespread sectarian bloodshed that pushed the country to the brink of civil war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Most of those killed Friday were performing midday prayers in the packed Abu Bakir al-Sideeq mosque in the town of Wijaihiya, which is about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Worshippers and other eyewitnesses said the bomb apparently was planted inside a wall-mounted air conditioning unit to the left of the pulpit. AP television footage of the aftermath showed the interior of the mosque near the bomb site charred and shrapnel damage peppering the walls. Glass, shoes and other debris littered the blood-soaked red prayer rugs lining the floor.

One of those praying inside, 30-year-old Mohammed Faleh, said the blast struck as male worshippers, including children, were kneeling during communal prayers.

“I stood up to find blood-stained bodies lying on the ground. The Friday prayer turned into a disaster. Whoever left these bombs has no religion,” he said.

Faleh said security forces found a second bomb left near the mosque that they rendered safe with a controlled detonation.

Between 250 to 300 people were inside the mosque when the bombing happened, said Sami Dawoud Salman, a member of the local Sahwa, a group of anti-al-Qaida Sunni militiamen that work alongside government security forces. He said the mosque was unguarded and that the local imam had been unsuccessful in getting increased protection.

“I'm asking the government for a solution. There's no security,” survivor Jassim Dawoud said. “It's a disastrous situation.”

Diyala province, where the attack occurred, was once the site of some of the fiercest fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents in Iraq. It remains a hotbed for terrorist attacks. The area is religiously mixed and witnessed some of the worst atrocities as Shiite militias battled Sunni insurgents for control in the years after the invasion.

“Terrorism is targeting all sects in Diyala mainly by attacking Sunni and Shiite mosques, funerals and football fields to draw the province into a sectarian conflict. All the victims were civilians,” said Diyala provincial Councilman Sadiq al-Husseini, appealing for calm. “I call on all Diyala residents to show self-restraint.”

Police and hospital officials said that at least 22 people were killed and more than 50 were wounded in the mosque blast.

Attacks outside the restive city of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, claimed four more lives. Two women died when mortar shells landed outside their house in nearby village, and a roadside bomb killed a father and son when it struck their car, authorities said.

The officials provided details of the attacks on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information to media.

The attacks struck as Iran's outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wrapped up a two-day trip to Iraq with visits to Shiite Muslim holy cities of Najaf and Karbala south of Baghdad. There was no indication the attacks were related to his trip.

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