Baghdad: A suicide bomber detonated explosives at a Sunni mosque during Friday prayers, killing 16 people, including a police commander and a judge in Saddam Hussein`s hometown, officials said.
The bombing at the mosque, located inside a government compound, was the second major attack in as many days in Iraq and highlighted the difficulties Iraqi security forces face in protecting their own people as American forces prepare to leave by the end of the year.
Sixteen bodies were taken to the main hospital in Tikrit, said the province`s top medical official, Dr. Raeid Ibrahim. He said 54 people were wounded, indicating that the death toll could rise. Among the wounded was a provincial leader who escaped an earlier attack.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Sunni insurgents often target fellow Sunnis who work with the government because they perceive them to be collaborators with Iraq`s Shiite-led government. Many of the Sunni extremists view Shiites as infidels and non-Muslims.
One of the injured was a provincial council member, Mohammed Fadhil, who was in stable condition after an operation to treat a wound to his abdomen, Ibrahim said. Mohammed al-Asi, a spokesman from the governor`s office, confirmed that Fadhil was injured.
A police commander, a judge and the husband of a provincial council member were also killed in the blast, said the head of the Salahuddin provincial council Amar Yousef.
Tikrit, 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Baghdad, was Saddam`s hometown and remains home to many of the deposed leader`s relatives.
The city was the site of a vicious, well-coordinated attack earlier this year on the provincial council headquarters. Gunmen wearing military uniforms over explosives belts charged into the building on March 29 and fended off police for five hours before blowing themselves up.
The bloodshed ended with 56 people dead, including 15 hostages who were shot execution-style. Fadhil was in the building when the attack happened but managed to escape with a broken arm, said Ibrahim, who treated him at the time.
Since then, provincial officials have tried to protect themselves by scheduling meetings irregularly, often setting one time and location and then changing it at the last minute.
But for an insurgent intent on killing as many people as possible, Fridays are a favorite day; Muslims are usually at the mosque for midday prayers.
There were initial reports suggesting the blast was a bomb planted in the mosque, but Yousef and other officials later said a suicide bomber walked into the crowd of worshippers and blew himself up.
The mosque is inside a compound of palaces built during Saddam`s era.
The compound is nicknamed "the small Green Zone in Tikrit" after the Green Zone in Baghdad that is home to government buildings and some embassies, al-Asi said.
He said the compound consists of more than 100 buildings which are mainly occupied by government offices such as houses for high-ranking police, army and provincial officials, and security offices. Visitors generally have to have a special badge to enter the compound, al-Asi said. Officials were investigating how the bomber managed to get inside, Yousef.
On Thursday night, series of bombings ripped through the capital of Iraq`s western Anbar province, killing nine people, Iraqi officials said.