At least 74 people have been killed and dozens more wounded in two gun-and-car bomb attacks near the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.
The attacks in the southern province of Thi Qar on Thursday started with unidentified assailants opening fire inside a restaurant on the main highway that links the capital Baghdad with the southern provinces.
Shortly afterwards, an explosives-laden car targeted a security checkpoint in the same area.
“There are now 74 deaths and 93 wounded,” said Abdel Hussein al-Jabri, Thi Qar’s deputy health chief.
Thi Qar is located about 320km southeast of Baghdad.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks, according to the group’s Amaq propaganda website.
Yahya al-Nassiri, provincial governor, told AP news agency the majority of the dead were probably Iranian visitors who were inside the restaurant.
Series of setbacks
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from the northern city of Erbil, said southern Iraq has been spared much of the violence that the rest of the country has suffered, particularly in the west and north.
The latest attacks follow a series of setbacks that ISIL, also known as ISIS, has faced at the hands of US-backed Iraqi forces.
In July, Iraq retook control of Mosul, a key ISIL stronghold in the north, after a campaign of nearly nine months.
After Tal Afar, Iraqi forces set sights on seizing Hawija from ISIL
In August, Iraqi forces dislodged ISIL from 70 percent of Tal Afar in northwest Iraq.
ISIL still controls the town of Hawija in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and western areas in the country’s largest province of Anbar.
“This is a message really from the ISIL group saying that you may have beaten us in Tal Afar and Mosul and surrounded us in Hawija, but we are still able to attack you in places that you wouldn’t expect,” Al Jazeera’s Khan.
“This is a real challenge for the Iraqis – do they move troops to the south or continue their battle up in Hawija?”
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies