BAGHDAD—An Iraqi official blamed the ISIS group on Monday for the bombing of two Sunni mosques in a predominantly Shiite city in southern Iraq the previous night, saying the militant group seeks to stoke sectarian tensions.
Provincial security official Falah al-Khafaji told The Associated Press that ISIS, “did this to inflame sectarian strife in the country.”
The bombing in the city of Hilla late on Sunday damaged both mosques but caused no casualties, according to the government.
The attacks come amid an escalating Saudi-Iranian spat over the kingdom’s execution of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, which sparked outrage among Shiites across the region over the weekend. In Baghdad Monday, supporters of influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gathered outside the heavily fortified Green Zone to protest the Nimr execution, demanding Iraq cut diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia.
However Khafaji said he doesn’t believe that the Hilla bombings were carried out by Shiites seeking revenge, instead blaming ISIS for seeking to exploit the current Sunni-Shiite tensions. Authorities are beefing up security around the two targeted mosques and other Sunni mosques in the city, he said.
After years of violent armed struggles between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, the government seems eager to defuse the situation and prevent Shiite militias from attacking Sunni communities or institutions.
Following local media reports claiming the Hilla bombings were revenge for al-Nimr’s execution, Iraq’s Ministry of Interior released a statement saying the attacks were aimed at exploiting regional tensions to “alienate Iraq’s communities from one another.”
The statement also called on Iraqi journalists to “show national and professional responsibility,” and not to “promote the aims of Iraq’s enemies.”
Demonstrations against the Nimr execution and Saudi Arabia are also being called for in the predominantly Shiite southern cities of Najaf and Basra Monday.