Baghdad: At least 14 people were wounded by mortar fire near an important Shi`ite shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra, officials and security sources said on Tuesday, as the Shi`ite-led government fights a major Sunni insurgency.
A 2006 bombing at the same site, the Imam al-Askari shrine, exacerbated already severe sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shi`ite Muslims, fuelling a conflict that killed tens of thousands of people over the next two years.
Since June, Sunni rebels - led by an al Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State, which consider Shi`ites heretics - have seized territory across the north and west, as well as border posts, oilfields, and the north`s largest city Mosul.
Shi`ite militias have also joined the fray on the Baghdad government`s side against the militants.
An official in the prime minister`s office said three mortars struck the shrine`s perimeter gates, killing one construction worker and wounding 14 people, including two who were airlifted to a hospital in critical condition.
The shrine was untouched and the Iraqi air force "immediately responded by targeting the perpetrators of the attack", the official said in an emailed statement.
A local official and police sources speaking anonymously did not mention any dead but gave a higher number of wounded.
“Two mortars hit caravans used by the shrine workers and wounded three. Another six mortars landed at al-Mukhtar street around 150 to 200 metres from the shrine and wounded around 20 guards,” said one local official who visited the scene.