BAQUBA, IRAQ // Two bombs exploded outside a Sunni Muslim mosque in the Baquba as worshippers left Friday prayers, killing at least 43 people in one of the deadliest attacks in a month-long surge in sectarian violence.
The attack, combined with yesterday's bombing at a Sunni funeral to the south of the capital, deepened fears Iraq may be headed toward a new round of sectarian conflict.
In Baquba, about 50 kilometres northeast of the capital, one bomb exploded outside a mosque and a second explosion tore into crowds of people rushing to help victims of the first attack, police said.
Local television showed images of bodies, pools of blood and the victims' scattered shoes. "I was about 30 metres from the first explosion. When the first exploded, I ran to help them, and the second one went off. I saw bodies flying and I had shrapnel in my neck," said Hashim Munjiz, a college student.
Another eight people were killed and more than 20 wounded yesterday when a roadside bomb hit people gathering for the funeral of a Sunni Muslim cleric killed in Baghdad in an attack a day earlier. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Shiite Islamist militias, which fought US troops for years after the 2003 invasion, have said they are prepared in case they need to return to war. Sunni insurgents also sometimes hit Sunni targets to provoke conflict.
Sunni Islamist insurgents and Al Qaeda's local wing, the Islamic State of Iraq, have stepped up attacks since the start of the year to try to provoke a wide-scale sectarian confrontation like the slaughter that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis in 2006-2007.
Many Sunnis accuse Nouri Al Maliki's Shiite-led government of discriminating against their minority sect. On Thursday, a suicide bomber set off his explosives in a Shiite Muslim mosque in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, killing at least eight among mourners gathered to pay respects to people killed in another bombing the day before that.
April was Iraq's bloodiest month for almost five years, with 712 people killed, according to figures from the United Nations. Since the US withdrawal, Iraq's coalition government has been caught up in a power struggle between majority Shiites, minority Sunnis and ethnic Kurds who split cabinet posts among them.
Sunnis, who lost their dominance when the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, have been protesting for months against Mr Al Maliki, demanding reforms to tough anti-terrorism laws they say are used to unfairly target their sect.
With additional reporting by Associated Press