Suicide blast at Shiite funeral kills 18

A suicide bomber detonated his explosives during a funeral ceremony Wednesday at a Shiite mosque in northern Iraq, killing 18 people, an official said.

The attack in Tuz Khormato, some 120 kilometres north of Baghdad, is likely to further strain Iraq's ethnic and sectarian rifts. The city sits in a band of territory contested by Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen -- and all of them have claims to it.

The head of the Salahuddin provincial health directorate, Raed Ibrahim, said 18 people were killed and 45 were wounded in the attack. Another official, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir al-Zaidi, a military commander, said at least 14 people were killed. At least 44 people were wounded in the attack, including some provincial officials, he said.

Conflicting death tolls are common in the immediate aftermath of attacks in Iraq.

The bombing came a day after a string of attacks, including three car bombs in and around Baghdad, killed at least 22 people Tuesday.

There has been no claim of responsibility for this week's attacks. But they bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida's local franchise, which often uses indiscriminate attacks to sow fear among Iraq's Shiite majority and undermine the government's authority.

Violence has fallen since the peak of the insurgency in Iraq several years ago, but lethal attacks launched primarily by Sunni extremists still occur frequently. The attacks exacerbate Iraq's struggle to maintain stability amid a series of political crises that have wracked the country since the U.S. military withdrawal in December 2011.

An upsurge in violence in recent weeks has coincided with a wave of Sunni-led protests against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government over what they see as unfair treatment of their sect.

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