BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Nine people were wounded when a bomb planted inside a symbolic coffin carried by demonstrators blew up in Iraq’s troubled northern Diyala province on Tuesday.
The blast took place in the town of Khalis, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, when relatives of the victims of previous bombings demanded severe penalties for suspected members of the Shi’ite militia Asaib al-Haq, or League of the Righteous.
Protestors accused the militia of responsibility for Tuesday’s bombing.
“The bomb was a bloody message from the League of the Righteous members to deter us from asking for a fair penalty to those who took the lives of our relatives,” said Haider Mahmoud, whose brother was killed when a car bomb blew up at a crowded Khalis market in May, killing at least 30 people.
At least six members of the group have been arrested and claimed responsibility for a series of blasts that killed more than 80 people in Khalis in recent months, police said. The case was referred to a criminal court in Baghdad.
Tensions have been running high in Iraq since an inconclusive March 7 parliamentary election left a power vacuum and raised concerns about a renewal of sectarian violence.
The angry crowd clashed on Tuesday with anti-riot security forces and threw stones at police, forcing them to leave the area. The demonstrators then staged a sit-in, blocking a main highway linking Diyala province with northern Iraq, police said.
Asaib al-Haq split from the Mehdi Army of anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The militia was believed to be behind the 2007 abduction of British computer programmer Peter Moore and his four bodyguards in a brazen daytime raid on a fortified government building in Baghdad.
Overall violence in Iraq has dropped sharply since the sectarian warfare of 2006-07, but shootings and bombings — often targeting the security forces, government officials or former Sunni insurgents who switched sides — are still common.
Writing and reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Rania El Gamal/David Stamp