Suicide bombers, gunfire and rocket fire were reported at the mausoleum of Sayyid Muhammad bin Ali al-Hadi during Eid al-Fitr festivities on Thursday evening.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the triple suicide attack near a Shia mausoleum north of Baghdad that killed at least 35 people and wounded 60 others, according to Iraqi security sources.
The attack on the mausoleum of Sayyid Muhammad bin Ali al-Hadi reignited fears of an escalation of the sectarian strife between Iraq’s Shias and Sunnis.
The Shia form a majority in Iraq but Sunnis are predominant in northern and western provinces, including Salahuddin where the mausoleum is located, reports The Guardian.
The attack on the shrine was the first of its kind in recent years. Shia sites were frequently targeted by the forerunners to Isis, particularly when the organisation was run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who incited sectarian war against Iraq’s majority sect through a spate of similar bombings.
The strike in Balad is being seen in Baghdad as another indication that after losing much of the territory it has held for the past two years, Isis is once again trying to inflame tensions by attacking soft civilian targets and holy sites.
Last Saturday’s attack on a shopping district in the central Baghdad suburb of Karada was seen as another throwback to an even more deadly era. Security officials believe that two Isis units that were responsible for devastating bombings in Baghdad in 2009 have been reformed to conduct a series of new atrocities.
Militias and Iraqi security forces have invested enormous resources in protecting Shia shrines across Iraq and the breach of the mausoleum site in Balad was on Friday already causing ramifications, with rival militias Asa’ib ahl al-Haq and Saraya Salam both accusing each other of security lapses.
On Friday the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, announced the sacking of a host of senior security officials in Baghdad, including the general responsible for the capital’s security. The move follows the resignation of the interior minister in the wake of the Karada bombings.