A suicide bomb outside a mosque in northern Iraq and a string of attacks in Baghdad killed at least 37 people on Friday, a grim reminder of the insurgency’s continued ability to strike in spite of recent security gains.

The attacks, targeting Shia Muslims as they celebrated one of their biggest religious holidays, marked one of the deadliest days in Iraq since the nominal withdrawal of US troops from cities on June 30. Violence in the country increased slightly this spring, but July was among the least violent months since the 2003 US-led invasion.

At least 30 people, however, were killed in the deadliest attack on Friday in the northern city of Mosul. Officials said the death toll was likely to rise because emergency personnel were trying to rescue people stuck under rubble.

Zuhair Muhsan Mohammed, the mayor of Mosul, said people at the mosque were attending a funeral. He said the bomber managed to drive through a checkpoint by telling guards he was there to pay condolences to the dead person’s relatives. “When he got close, the car exploded,” the mayor said.

Sunni insurgent groups are trying to strengthen their foothold in Mosul as US troops draw down from urban areas.

US military officials said they had anticipated attacks would increase after the June 30 withdrawal.

But the level of violence has been lower than expected.

However, at least seven people were killed in further bombings in Baghdad, Iraqi police officials said. The deadliest, in Hamza Square, in Sadr City, a district in eastern Baghdad, killed three people and wounded eight.

Hundreds of thousands of Shia Muslims have in recent days made a pilgrimage to Kerbala, in southern Iraq, to commemorate the birth of Muhammad al-Mahdi, a revered figure in Shia Islam.

Attacks on Shia pilgrims in 2006 and 2007 unleashed a vicious cycle of sectarian violence. Recent insurgent attacks, however, have not been followed by retaliation against Sunni communities.

“These bombings are an attempt to return Iraq to square one,” Hameed Fadhel, an analyst, told Reuters. “I expect these attacks to rise the closer we get to the elections,” he added, referring to national polls due in January.

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