Bomb outside central Iraq mosque kills 17
TIKRIT - A bomb placed outside a mosque frequented by provincial officials in the central Iraqi city of Tikrit killed at least 17 people and wounded 50 after the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday.
The attack came a day after a spate of coordinated bomb attacks in western Iraq killed 10 people, raising questions over the capabilities of Iraqi security forces with just months to go before all US forces must pull out.
Two members of the Salaheddin provincial council and a senior police officer were among the wounded in the blast at 12:45 pm (0945 GMT) in Tikrit, 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Baghdad, a security official and a doctor said.
"We have received 17 dead bodies, and around 50 other people are wounded," said the doctor in Tikrit hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Among the wounded are two provincial councillors and police Lieutenant Colonel Khalil al-Ramul."
An interior ministry official in Baghdad, who also did not want to be named, confirmed the toll.
The bomb was hidden inside a fuel canister at the entrance to the mosque where provincial officials often attend Friday prayers, the official said.
Friday's attack was the deadliest in Tikrit since a March 29 Al-Qaeda raid on the city's provincial council offices, which led to a bloody hours-long gun battle with security forces that left 58 people dead.
In mid-January, a suicide bomber killed 50 people in a crowd waiting outside a police recruitment centre in the city, the first major strike in Iraq after the formation of a new government in December.
Tikrit was the hometown of now executed dictator Saddam Hussein and is the capital of mainly Sunni Arab Salaheddin province, which was a key battleground in the insurgency that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.
Friday's violence came just hours after at least three explosions killed 10 people and wounded 15 others in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on Thursday evening, security officials said.
Ramadi has frequently been the target of attacks in previous months.
The two days of violence raise questions over the ability of Iraqi forces to secure the country, with 45,000 American troops due to pull out of the country at the end of the year under the terms of a bilateral security pact.
Iraqi leaders are still considering whether to request an extension of the US military presence, and top American officials have pressed their Iraqi counterparts to decide soon.
US forces in Iraq are charged primarily with training and equipping local forces, but they still take part in joint counter-terror operations.
Violence in Iraq is down from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common. A total of 177 people died in May as a result of violence, according to official figures.