Iraqi Prime Minister sacks security chiefs after attack on Shiite shrine by ISIS

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks duing a press conference with Turkey's Prime Minister (unseen) in Ankara on December 25, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN        (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

The death toll from a suicide attack claimed by Islamic State on a Shi’ite shrine in northern Iraq has risen to 50 people, medical sources and witnesses say.

The dead included several bodies that have been burnt beyond recognition in the attack by the radical Sunni group, which also injured 94 people, they said.

Earlier on Friday, hospital officials said 40 people were killed and 74 injured in the attack that targeted the shrine of Imam al-Sayed Mohammed bin Ali late on Thursday in the town of Balad, around 80 kilometres north of the capital Baghdad.

The attack was carried out by three bombers who posed as members of the pro-government Shi’ite militia, the Popular Mobilization, and refused to show their ID cards as they entered the shrine, a senior police officer said.

Two attackers detonated their explosive vests at the main gate of the site, the officer added on condition of anonymity.

The third attacker lobbed two hand grenades in the courtyard of the shrine, which was packed with visitors before blowing himself up.

Authorities in the mostly Sunni northern province of Salah al-Din declared a curfew in Balad and two other towns.

The province’s local council declared mourning for three days, starting Friday.

In an attempt to defuse sectarian tensions, the governor of Salah al-Din, Ahmed al-Jabouri, called on locals to stand united against the violence.

Influential Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, meanwhile, ordered a militia force to go to Balad to protect the shrine and its visitors.

The attack came less than a week after a car bombing, also claimed by Islamic State, killed 292 people in Baghdad’s central district of Karada – the deadliest such attack in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Ali al-Sistani Friday condemned both attacks.

He accused Islamic State of seeking to foment sectarian strife in the Shi’ite-majority country and called for ‘substantial changes’ in the top echelons of the security apparatus.

On Friday, al-Abadi sacked chief of the Baghdad Operations Abdul Amir al-Shammari and other security and intelligence officials in the city, state television al-Iraqiya reported.

Since becoming prime minister in September 2014, al-Abadi, a Shi’ite, has sought to drum up the backing of the country’s Sunni minority in the fight to dislodge the Islamic State out of Iraq.

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