Suicide attackers wearing women's robes blew themselves up Friday in a Shiite mosque in northern Baghdad, killing at least 79 people and wounding more than 160, police said. It was the second major attack against Shiite targets in as many days.
The violence came as U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad warned that Iraq faces the possibility of sectarian civil war if efforts to build a national unity government do not succeed, and that such a conflict could affect the entire Middle East.
Police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said the blasts were caused by two suicide attackers wearing black abayas at the Buratha mosque, which is affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the main Shiite party.
Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, the preacher at the mosque and one of the country's leading politicians, said there were three assailants. One came through the women's security checkpoint and blew up first, he said. Another raced into the mosque's courtyard while a third came to his office before detonating themselves, said al-Sagheer, who was not injured.
He accused Sunni politicians and clerics of waging "a campaign of distortions and lies against the Buratha mosque, claiming that it includes Sunni prisoners and mass graves of Sunnis."
"Shiites are the ones who are targeted as part of this dirty sectarian war waged against them as the world watches silently," he told Al-Arabiya television.
The attack occurred as worshippers were leaving after Friday prayers, the main weekly religious service. Earlier Friday, the Interior Ministry cautioned people in Baghdad to avoid crowds near mosques and markets due to a car bomb threat.
Rescuers carried the bodies from the mosque compound on makeshift wooden wheelbarrows and loaded them on the backs of pickup trucks. The Baghdad city council urged Iraqis to donate blood for those wounded, reports AP.