Mortar fire wounds 14 near major Shi'ite shrine in Iraq's Samarra

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - 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. (Reporting by a reporter in Tikrit and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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