Death toll rises after Baghdad blasts

 

A wave of explosions struck two Shiite neighbourhoods in Baghdad today, killing at least 23 people and intensifying fears that insurgents are stepping up attacks after the US troop withdrawal last month.

The attacks began with the explosion of a bomb attached to a motorcycle near a bus stop where day labourers gather to look for work in the Sadr City neighbourhood. The blast killed eight people, Iraqi police said.

That was followed by a roadside bomb nearby that killed another person. Police found a third bomb close by and defused it.

Less than two hours later, two blasts struck the neighbourhood of Kazimiyah in the north of the Iraqi capital, killing 14 people.

Officials said the Kazimiyah blasts occurred almost simultaneously, with at least one caused by a car bomb.

Hospital officials confirmed the causalities, which included about 60 wounded.

"I was heading to my work when the strong blast took place. I saw thick black smoke coming from the area. Now, people have real fears that the cycle of violence might be revived in this country," said Tariq Annad, a 52-year-old government employee who lives near the scene of the first blast.

Iraqi leaders have warned of a resurgence of Sunni and Shiite militants and an increase in violence following the departure of US troops.

The early morning blasts followed deadly attacks yesterday that targeted the homes of police officers and a member of a government-allied militia. Those attacks, in the cities of Baqouba and Abu Ghraib outside Baghdad, killed four people, including two children, officials said.

The latest violence comes as Iraqi politicians remain deadlocked in a festering political crisis that threatens to reignite simmering sectarian tensions in the country.

Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, dominated by Iraq's majority Shiites, issued an arrest warrant for the country's top Sunni politician last month. The Sunni official, vice president Tariq al-Hashemi, is holed up in Iraq's Kurdish north - effectively out of reach of state security forces.

Mr al-Maliki's main political rival, the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, is boycotting parliament sessions and cabinet meetings to protest against what they say are efforts by the government to consolidate power and marginalise them.

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