ISIS claimed responsibility, saying it targeted Shiites in the outskirts of Nasiriya city in the south of Iraq, according to an ISIS statement circulating on ISIS telegram channels.
An armed attack on a restaurant was followed by a car bomb and a suicide bomber at a nearby checkpoint, the police statement said. Security officials foiled an ISIS attack on a second restaurant nearby, but several security officials were killed and wounded in the exchange of fire.
Iraqi security officials killed six of the attackers, the statement added.
Footage from Al-Nasiriya TV showed a hectic scene of the injured arriving at the al-Hussein Educational Hospital.
Security officials in Nasiriya said seven Iranian pilgrims were among those killed and at least 10 others were among the wounded people. Most people were heading to the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
The city of Nasiriya, about 345 kilometers (214 miles) south of Baghdad, is predominantly Shiite.
‘We both kept praying’
One witness, Abu Ali, said he and his wife were walking toward Fadek al-Zahra restaurant to have lunch when, from a distance, he saw several gunmen in military uniforms entering it.
“We kept walking toward the restaurant. We thought they are ordinary Iraqi troops. A few seconds later we heard heavy gunfire and people screaming,” Abu Ali said.
“My wife shouted ‘terrorists’ and we ran away. We hide behind a building nearby, we both kept praying, thinking today is our last day in this life,” he added.
Abu Ali said eventually the attackers fled after they killed most people in the restaurant, and later Iraqi security forces arrived on the scene.
Several members of the Iraqi Parliament condemned “the coward terrorist attack targeting innocent people,” blaming the security officials at various security checkpoints in and around the city for not taking enough precautionary measures.
Ján Kubiš, the special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for Iraq, condemned the “cowardly” attacks in a statement.
“These barbaric acts of terrorism against innocent civilians, many of them pilgrims, confirm yet again the terrorists’ total disregard for life and their despair and cowardice in the face of the victories of the Iraqi security forces which seized most of their strongholds across the country,” Kubiš said.
Iraqi security forces have been battling thousands of Sunni extremist militants, ISIS, in northern and western Iraq, but this coordinated attack in a predominantly Shiite area is considered rare.