A suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a Shia mosque south of Baghdad Sunday, killing at least 24 people, police officials said, after a double car bomb killed six people in Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish province earlier Sunday.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the bombing at the Shia mosque in Mussayab, 40 miles south of the capital – the latest in a spate of attacks targeting both Sunni and Shia places of worship, particularly during funerals. Persistent violence has raised fears of a return to the all-out Sunni-Shia civil war that peaked in 2006-2007 and killed tens of thousands of people.
Earlier Sunday, twin suicide car bombings and an ensuing firefight in the capital of Iraq’s largely peaceful northern Kurdish region killed at least six security forces and wounded 30 others, officials said.
The governor of Irbil province, Nawzad Hadi, said an attacker tried to ram his car into a checkpoint leading to a complex housing the Interior Minister and other security agencies in downtown Irbil.
As rescuers and people gathered at the scene, another bomber driving an ambulance attacked, Hadi added. A few minutes later, gunmen exchanged fire with security forces, and at least three attackers were killed.
Kurdish officials did not blame any militant group for the bombings in Irbil, the third major attack to hit the region since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, saying only that they are awaiting results of an investigation.
The last attack in the self-ruled Kurdish region occurred in 2007 when a suicide bomber hit the Interior Ministry, killing 14 people. In 2004 a twin suicide attack killed 109 people.
Iraq’s delicate sectarian balance has come under growing strain from the civil war in neighboring Syria, where Sunni rebels are fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Both Sunnis and Shia have crossed into Syria from Iraq to fight on opposite sides of the conflict. Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi and Syrian branches merged earlier this year to form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has claimed responsibility for attacks on both sides of the border.
On Friday, bombs exploded near two Sunni mosques in Baghdad as worshipers left after prayers, killing six. Another bombing targeted Sunni mourners in Baghdad on Sept. 23, killing 15, while an attack on a Sunni funeral killed 12 the day before.
Bombings targeting Shia mourners killed 73 people in Baghdad on Sept. 21, and two blasts at a Sunni mosque north of the capital killed 18 a day before that.
More than 790 people have been killed in September and 6,000 in Iraq violence since the start of the year, according to monitoring group Iraq Body Count.
Al Jazeera and wire services