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BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants in Iraq carried out a series of suicide attacks Friday, hitting Shiite mosques in the country's northeast and killing at least 22 worshippers, including a senior police officer, officials said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings but they bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State extremist group, which has carried near-daily attacks — along with other Sunni militant groups — against the Shiite majority, Iraqi officials and security forces.
The IS considers Shiites heretics and has, since last year, captured large chunks of territory in western and northern Iraq, plunging the country into its worst crisis since U.S. troops left at the end of 2011.
In the town of Balad Ruz, a suicide car bomber attacked the al-Zahraa mosque as worshippers were leaving after the Friday mid-day prayers, a police officer said. A second suicide bomber on foot then attacked the crowds gathered in the aftermath.
The twin attacks in Balad Ruz, located about 70 kilometers (44 miles) northeast of Baghdad, killed at least 18 people and injured at least 41. Among the dead were the leader of the town's police commandos, Col. Adnan Mohammed al-Timimi, and two policemen, the official added.
Separately, a suicide bomber drove his car into worshippers as they were leaving the Imam Hussein Shiite mosque in the town of Kanaan, about 75 kilometers (47 miles) northeast of the Iraqi capital, the police officer added. Four people were killed and at least 18 wounded in that attack.
Two medical officials confirmed the causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
The predominantly Shiite towns are located in Iraq's religiously-mixed province of Diyala, which has witnessed major clashes between government forces and Sunni insurgents in recent months.
Friday's bombings came ahead of next week's major Shiite event commemorating the anniversary of the 8th century death of a revered religious figure, Imam Mousa al-Kazim, when thousands of pilgrims march to his shrine in northern Baghdad.
Also on Friday, Iraq's famed musician, Naseer Shamma, kicked off a campaign to raise funds for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were forced out their houses in the country's restive areas, spokesman Muhanad Ali said. Iraq's state-run Media Network dedicated a day-long live feed, hosting Iraqi singers, actors and popular figures to encourage people to donate to the effort.
Shamma's campaign, called Ahalna or Our People, also includes a series of concerts and activities inside and outside Iraq to increase awareness about the sufferings of the displaced people, Ali told The Associated Press.
The team was "more than happy with the turnout," saying Friday's event garnered over 400 million Iraqi dinnars (about US$ 300,000) just a few hours after the campaign was launched.
According to the U.N. figures, some 2.7 million people have been displaced inside Iraq due to the fighting, including 110,000 who fled from renewed fighting in and around the city of Ramadi in the western Anbar province in last month.
Many of them are living with other families, inside mosques or in makeshift camps.
During a visit to Iraq last month, the head of the European Union's humanitarian aid department, Jean-Louis de Brouwer, warned that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating rapidly while the world is preoccupied with crises elsewhere, saying the number of displaced people in Iraq has quadrupled in the last year and shows no signs of decreasing.
Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report from Baghdad.
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