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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dozens Killed in Bomb Blast Near Iraqi Mosque

BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber detonated a belt of explosives on his body near a highly revered Shiite shrine in southern Iraq on Thursday, killing at least 33 people and injuring 108, an official said.

The bomber blew himself up while being patted down by policemen near the Imam Ali mosque in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, said Munthir al-Ithari, the head of Najaf's health directorate. In a statement, the collective Shiite Muslim leadership, Hawza, accused Sunni loyalists of former dictator Saddam Hussein of carrying out the attack.

"We hold Takfiris [Sunni extremists] and Saddamists directly responsible for this horrible crime. ... At the same time, we hold those who embrace terrorism in Iraq and the countries supporting it as responsible," the statement said.

In other violence Thursday, 16 people were killed across the country, most of them in Baghdad, including three policemen who died in a gunfight with insurgents.

The Najaf bombing occurred at about 10.30 a.m. local time in the Grand Market -- packed with pilgrims and shoppers -- in front of the Imam Ali mosque, which contains the tomb of Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali. It is one of the world's most sacred shrines for Shiites, the minority sect of Islam.

"Before I reached the checkpoint, only a few meters from the shrine, I heard a huge explosion," said Shakir Obeid Hassan, one of those injured, from his hospital bed. "Something hit me on the head and I fell. I couldn't hear for a while, but I saw bodies and human flesh everywhere."

Najaf, 160 kilometers south of Baghdad, is a major pilgrim destination for Shiites around the world, especially from neighboring Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, like Iraq.

Sectarian clashes have largely occurred in the Baghdad area, where about 1,500 violent deaths were reported last month, a dramatic rise from about 1,000 deaths in January.