BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A suicide bomber disguised as a mourner killed at least 22 people inside an Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim mosque on Wednesday when he set off his explosives in the middle of a crowded funeral.
The latest of four suicide attacks in a week came as Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki faces mounting pressure from mass Sunni protests that threaten to return Iraq to the scale of sectarian violence that killed thousands in 2006-2007.
Dressed in a suit, the bomber mingled with mourners before detonating the blast at the Saif al Shuhada, Sword of the Martyrs, mosque in Tuz Khurmato city at a ceremony for a Shi'ite ethnic Turkman, police and witnesses said.
"I was sitting in the seats at the back when all of sudden I heard the sound of a huge explosion. Thank God I was behind because people in front of me saved me with their bodies," said Abbas Qadir Mohammed, 35, one of the wounded.
Panicked survivors packed the injured and dead wrapped in carpets into trucks and cars to rush them to hospital in the religiously and ethnically mixed city 170 km (105 miles) north of the capital Baghdad.
Rigot Mohammed, an Iraqi army spokesman, said at least 22 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in the blast.
No one claimed responsibility, but al Qaeda's local wing, Islamic State of Iraq, often targets Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims and sites to try to trigger widespread Sunni-Shi'ite confrontation in Iraq a year after the last American troops withdrew.
The Sunni militant group has pledged to win back ground lost during the war following the U.S.-led 2003 invasion and has been reinvigorated by Sunni Islamists fighting against President Bashar al-Assad in neighboring Syria.
Maliki is struggling to calm weeks of street protests by Sunni Muslims while his delicately balanced government, a coalition of Sunnis, ethnic Kurds and the Shi'ite majority, is deadlocked in a crisis over power sharing.
The attack on Tuz Khurmato was the fourth suicide bombing in Iraq in a week. At least 55 people have been killed in the blasts, including a Sunni lawmaker visiting a town where protesters were gathering. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for that bombing.
POLITICAL UNREST Continued...