Suicide bombers killed at least 35 people and injured 60 others in an attack near a Shiite shrine in Balad, 70 kilometres north of Baghdad. The attack took place only days after one of the deadliest bombings in the country left almost 300 people dead.
Joint Operations Command (JOC) in Iraq said in a statement three suicide bombers targeted Sayid Mohammed bin Ali al Hadi shrine.
According to security sources, a man detonated an explosive belt at the external gate of the mausoleum, allowing several gunmen to storm the site and start shooting at worshippers on the occasion of Eid al Fitr, the festival celebrated at the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.
At least one gunmen blew himself up in the middle of the crowd, according to Reuters.
The JOC statement said the third one was killed and his explosive belt was defused, without specifying which forces conducted the operation.
The site also came under rocket fire during the attack.
Pictures posted on social media showed a fire burning in the market located at the entrance of the shrine. The extent of the damage to the actual shrine is still not clear.
— Zaid Benjamin (@zaidbenjamin) July 7, 2016
The attack on the Mausoleum of Sayid Mohammed reignited fears of an escalation of the sectarian strife between Iraq's Shias and Sunnis.
Prominent Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr ordered the Peace Brigade, his militia, to deploy around the shrine.
The Shiite form a majority in Iraq but Sunnis are predominant in northern and western provinces, including Salahuddin where the shrine is located.
Sadr's militia is also deployed in Samarra, a nearby city that houses the shrine of Imam Ali al Hadi, the father of Sayid Mohammed.
A 2006 bombing destroyed the golden dome of the shrine of Ali al Hadi and his other son, Imam Hasan al Askari, setting off a wave of sectarian violence akin to a civil war.
A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle in Baghdad's Karrada district – a largely Shia area – on July 3 as it teemed with shoppers ahead of the Eid holiday. The brutal attack killed 292 and injured at least 200 others.
Slew of dismissals
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi dismissed three security chiefs overseeing Baghdad, his office said on Friday.
Iraq's interior minister tendered his resignation after the horrific attack in Karada, but the Friday statement was the first announcing that officials were fired following the attack.
The premier sacked the local commander of military operations, national security adviser and head of interior ministry intelligence for the capital after the deadly attack caused outrage at the inadequacy of emergency services and the security apparatus.
Both the bombings in Balad and Karada – one of the deadliest to hit Iraq since 2003 – were claimed by DAESH, who frequently target Shias and claim affiliation with the Sunni school of thought. The terrorist group overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but then lost ground to US-backed government forces and Iran-backed Shiite militias.
However, the latest attack suggests they still have the ability to strike outside the territory they control in northern and western Iraq.