BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber in Iraq detonated his explosive belt in funeral tent packed with mourners for a Shiite tribal leader Monday, killing at least 15 in what officials described as an al-Qaida attempt to reignite sectarian violence.
The blast in the city of Baqouba wounded at least 40 people. It came after a particularly bloody week in which more than 100 people died in bombings across the country targeting a major Shiite pilgrimage.
Monday's violence was another example of insurgents slipping in despite security measures to launch attacks. Iraqi security forces are under heavy criticism for failing to stop militants since U.S. forces left the country six months ago.
One of Iraq's top military officials – the commander of the army's ground forces, Lt. Gen. Ali Ghaidan – was among the mourners. He was not harmed, but one of his bodyguards died in the blast and two others were wounded.
The bomber set off his explosives in the tent filled with about 150 mourners on the third and last day of the funeral for a leader of the Zubaidi Shiite tribe, said Sadiq al-Husseini, head of the Diyala provincial council.
A Shiite politician who is close to former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and was sitting near Ghaidan said security forces tried to stop the bomber when he burst into the funeral tent.
Politician Moayad al-Obaidi called it a "terrorist attack that, absolutely, al-Qaida used as an opportunity to attack people on the occasion of a funeral."
The explosion could be heard and felt as far as two kilometers (a mile) away, said farmer Saif al-Temimi.
"As soon the blast occurred, I told my family fearfully that it was a strong one," al-Temimi said. "What is the purpose of such brutal and savage aimless acts?"
The death toll of at least 15, as well as 40 others wounded by the blast, was confirmed by Faris al-Azzawi the head of the health directive in Diyala province.
The Diyala provincial capital, Baqouba is a former Sunni insurgent stronghold located 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad.
Al-Husseini also blamed al-Qaida-allied Sunni militants for the attack as an attempt to stir hostility between Shiites and Sunni Muslims. The attack was in a Shiite area.
"Absolutely this is the way of al-Qaida – targeting innocent people to ignite sectarian unrest," he said.
Diyala is one of the last provinces in Iraq where al-Qaida and its allies remain a strong threat. The province, sandwiched between Baghdad and Iran, is divided among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds and has been a sectarian and ethnic flashpoint for years.
While the sectarian fighting that killed thousands of Iraqis in 2006 and 2007 and drove families from their homes has subsided in recent years, attacks by al-Qaida-linked militants frequently target Shiites.
Last week, about 25 bombings and mortar attacks struck a pilgrimage honoring an eighth-century Shiite saint as hundreds of thousands made their way to the shrine of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim.
On the deadliest days, at least 72 died in multiple bombings Wednesday and 26 more on Saturday, the culmination of the pilgrimage.