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Death toll rises from Iraq football tournament bombing

At least 32 people killed and scores more wounded in attack claimed by Islamic State targeting youth football tournament south of Baghdad
Iraqi security forces stand guard during anti-corruption protests on Friday in Baghdad by supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (AFP)

The death toll from an Islamic State (IS) group-claimed suicide bomb attack at a football stadium in a village near the town of Iskandiriya, south of Baghdad, has risen to at least 32 people, Iraqi officials said on Saturday.

At least 82 people were wounded in the attack on Friday, with 12 of them in a critical condition, a health official in Babil province told the AFP news agency.

Many of those killed and injured were children, with the blast occurring in a crowd of people as trophies were being handed out at the end of a youth football tournament in the village of Al-Asirya.

A video posted on social media showed a local official speaking in front of a table covered with trophies and calling out the name of a player before a huge blast.

"The suicide bomber cut through the crowd to approach the centre of the gathering and blew himself up as the mayor was presenting awards to the players," Ali Nashmi, an 18-year-old eyewitness, told AFP.

The mayor, Ahmed Shaker, was among the dead, as was one of his bodyguards and at least five members of the security forces.

The attack was the latest in a series of bombings claimed by IS even as the group has been losing territory in the face of an offensive by the Iraqi army and its allies elsewhere in the country, with the army on Thursday announcing the launch of a campaign to recapture the IS-held northern city of Mosul.

Iskandriya is a small city that used to be a part of what was called the "triangle of death," where thousands of Shia were slaughtered during the peak of the sectarian war in 2006-2007.

Iskandiriya and the towns in the "triangle of death" are under Iraqi government control but IS cells and other Sunni militant groups operate there, as Sunnis represent the majority in these towns.

Ban calls for national reconciliation

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Baghdad on Saturday for talks with senior officials on ways of assisting the war-ravaged country, the world body said.

Ban, who had last visited the Iraqi capital in March 2015, was travelling with World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim and Islamic Development Bank head Ahmad al-Madani.

Speaking to the Iraqi parliament after his arrival, Ban urged political leaders to support Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's reform drive and emphasised the need for national reconciliation.

"I call on all political leaders here today to continue your efforts towards a single, unified vision to advance national reconciliation in Iraq," Ban said.

He said such a vision should include the justice and accountability law, a controversial amnesty law and the establishment of a national guard.

Abadi is facing tough resistance from his own political camp over several of those issues.

"This spirit of compromise must extend to making sure that the executive and legislative branches, including the parliamentary blocs, work closely together to support the prime minister, as he implements the needed reforms to address the multiple crises you face," Ban told parliamentarians.

A drop in oil prices has had a devastating effect on Iraq's economy of Iraq, already strained by the cost of the fight against IS, which has left Baghdad with little to spare on the reconstruction of ravaged cities.

The head of the World Bank pledged his institution's support to Iraq as it begins rebuilding reconquered areas.

The World Bank recently granted Iraq a $1.2 bn loan to help it weather its financial crisis; it is the institution's largest ever direct budget support in the region.

"A clear commitment to reforms would build confidence, which he hoped would lead to greater international support for coping with the impact of low oil prices," a statement from Kim's office said.

Supporters of influential Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr have been camping outside entrances to the fortified Green Zone, which houses the country's main institutions, for more than a week.

Sadr says the goal of the protest is to support Abadi's reform drive and demand more measures in the fight against corruption.

He has given Abadi until Tuesday to present names of technocrats for a reshuffled cabinet.

But his move has left Abadi's government hanging by a thread, with powerful Shia leaders in his own bloc both reluctant to relinquish their positions and rattled by Sadr's return to the spotlight.