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      Celebration Turns to Horror in Iraq After 115 Are Massacred in Islamic State-Claimed Attack

      Celebration Turns to Horror in Iraq After 115 Are Massacred in Islamic State-Claimed Attack Celebration Turns to Horror in Iraq After 115 Are Massacred in Islamic State-Claimed Attack Celebration Turns to Horror in Iraq After 115 Are Massacred in Islamic State-Claimed Attack
      Photo By KHIDER ABBAS/EPA

      Middle East

      Celebration Turns to Horror in Iraq After 115 Are Massacred in Islamic State-Claimed Attack

      By Gillian Mohney

      Iraqi officials are scrambling to improve security after a car bombing reportedly killed 115 in Diyala province just north of Baghdad late last week, in what is one of the deadliest attacks the country has seen in a decade.

      The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), also known as Daesh and ISIL, took responsibility for Friday's bombing in Khan Bani Saad via Twitter accounts associated with the militant group. The attack occurred as residents celebrated Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

      In response to the staggering death toll, the town's police chief and three top law enforcement officials have been fired, the Associated Press is reporting. Another two officials are being investigated.

      The dead included women and children who were out in a Diyala marketplace to celebrate the holiday. Funeral services for the victims were held less than 48 hours after the bombing, with mourners surrounding rows of coffins draped in flags. Approximately 170 were injured in the attack.

      "What we witnessed yesterday cannot be described. Fire, bodies, wounded, women and children screaming ... Khan is now a disaster zone," Salem Abu Moqtada, who sells vegetables in the market, told AFP.

      Officials told the AP that a small truck armed with explosives detonated in the marketplace, killing mainly Shiite market-goers. On Saturday, Salim al-Jabouri, Iraq's speaker of parliament, said the attack hit an "ugly sectarian chord." He also said the government is working to stop "Daesh's terror from destabilizing Diyala security."

      "We went out to the market for shopping and preparations for the holiday Eid in order to receive holiday cheer," a resident, who spoke anonymously, told the AP. "But this joy has turned to grief and we have lost family, friends and relatives, all because of this government's failure to provide us with security."

      The White House on Saturday released a statement condemning the bombing, calling it a vicious attack against the Iraqi people.

      "The latest attack is yet another painful example of the atrocities that the terrorist group ISIL continues to perpetrate against the people of Iraq," said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price in a statement. 

      Iraqi officials have been battling IS militants after they swept in last summer and overtook large swathes of northern Iraq. While Iraqi-led forces have been able to retake much of the territory, attacks from IS are persistent.

      On Sunday, the US-led coalition fighting IS dropped leaflets over Raqqa, the group's de-facto capital, promising that "freedom will come" to the region, activists told the AP. Drawings of dead extremists and the IS flag turned upside down were reportedly on the leaflets.

      Brigadier General Saad Maan, a spokesman for Iraq's Joint Operations Command, announced this week that the country had closed the Trebil border-crossing with Jordan, in a bid to stop IS militants from collecting revenues on commercial trucking between the two countries. Sources in Iraq told VICE News the border closure was actually related to ongoing operations in Anbar province, where Iraqi forces have been trying to rout out IS members.

      "Part of this closure will be about reducing the commercial traffic in order to create conditions for surveillance and target acquisitions," Paul Stanley, the business director for a private security company in Iraq, told VICE News. "Commercial traffic has been diverted, and the [Iraq] Ministry of Defense has confirmed that the closure is also linked to the ongoing operations in Anbar."

      VICE News' Landon Schroder and the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

      Topics: islamic state, iraq, diyala, car bombing, bombing, isil, isis, baghdad, middle east

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