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Deadly car bomb blast rocks Iraq town north of Baghdad

Local officials say the blast killed at least 115 people and wounded dozens
Mourners gather for Iraqi soldiers killed in recent fighting (AFP)

BAQUBA, Iraq - A car bomb blast claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group ripped through the crowded heart of an Iraqi town north of Baghdad Friday, killing at least 115 people, officials said.

The attack occurred in a market area of the predominantly Shia town of Khan Bani Saad as people shopped on the eve of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

"The toll so far is 115 martyrs and 120 wounded, and we have between 17 and 20 missing," Abbas Hadi Saleh told AFP at the scene.

He said 15 children were killed in the attack, which ripped through the heart of the town's market area as people were shopping on the eve of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

"Every year (during Ramadan) there's a bombing. We are guilty of being Shiite," Saleh said. "This is the biggest in Diyala since 2003."

"The explosion was big, it caused a lot of damage," Raad Fares al-Mas, a member of parliament, said from nearby Baquba, the capital of Diyala.

The officials said many women and children were among the victims.

Footage aired on Iraqi television and on social media showed devastation around the bomb site, with several buildings completely gutted by the blast and debris strewn over a huge area.

Sunni Muslims began marking Eid al-Fitr on Friday but Iraq's majority Shia community will start their celebrations on Saturday.

Markets are usually packed in the days before the holiday as people preparing for large family gatherings shop for food and clothes.

IS issued a claim on militant forums saying the blast was caused by a suicide car bomb.

"Our brother Abu Ruqayya al-Ansari advanced with his car loaded with almost three tonnes of explosives in the middle of a gathering for Rafidha militias," the claim said.

Rafidha is a term IS uses disparagingly to refer to Shia Muslims. The group often says its car bomb attacks target Shia militia members even when mostly civilians are killed.

The office of Diyala Governor Muthanna al-Tamimi issued a statement declaring three days of mourning across the province and cancelling Eid al-Fitr festivities.

Earlier in the week at least 21 people were killed in a series of explosions in Baghdad for which the IS also claimed responsibility.

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