BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants targeted a Sunni mosque in a province next to the Iraqi capital during weekly prayers on Friday, killing at least 46 people and wounding over 50 as members of the Islamic State group continue to push through the area, officials said.
An army officer and a police officer said a suicide bomber first broke into the Musab bin Omair Mosque in Imam Wais village in Diyala province, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) northeast of Baghdad, detonating his explosives before gunmen rushed in and opened fire on worshippers.
The officials said that fighters with the Islamic State group have been trying to convince members of two prominent local Sunni tribes — the Oal-Waisi and al-Jabour — to join them but they have thus far refused.
Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media. The towns of Jalula and al-Saadiyah have recently fallen to militants with the Islamic State group but Imam Wais is thus far in government control.
Since early this year, Iraq has been facing an onslaught by the extremist Islamic State group and allied Sunni militants across much of the country's north and west. The crisis has worsened since June as the militant fighters swept through new towns in the north, killing dozens of people and displacing hundreds of thousands, mainly members of the minority Christian and Yazidi religious communities.
Officials in Imam Wais said that Iraqi security forces and local Shiite militiamen ran to the scene following Friday's mosque attack to reinforce security in the area, but they were deterred by bombs planted by the militants, which allowed them to flee. Four Shiite militiamen were killed and thirteen wounded by the explosive devices.
Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric has called on the country's leaders to settle their differences in a "realistic and doable" manner and swiftly form a new government, amid the growing Sunni insurgency that threatens to break up the country.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said the next government should be made up of candidates who care about "the country's future and its citizens" regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliations. Al-Sistani warned that that politicians' "demands and conditions could derail the forming of the new government."
The cleric's remarks were relayed by his representative, Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, during Friday prayers in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
Iraq's premier-designate, Haider al-Abadi, has until Sept. 10 to submit a list of Cabinet members to parliament for approval but deadlines have often been broken because of political wrangling in Iraq.
Al-Karbalaie also called for urgent aid to be airlifted to residents of a small Shiite town which has been besieged by Sunni militants in northern Iraq.
About 15,000 Shiite Turkmen in the town of Amrili have been suffering a tight siege and are lacking food and medical supplies. The town is located about 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of Baghdad.