Wave of bombings kill 36 in Iraq
More than 20 bombs hit cities and towns across Iraq today, killing at least 36 and wounding more than 100, police and hospital sources said.
In Baghdad, three car bombs, two roadside bombs and one suicide car bomb hit mainly Shia areas in what looked like coordinated attacks, killing 15 people and wounding 61, the sources said.
Two car bombs and three roadside bombs aimed at police and army patrols in the northern oil city of Kirkuk killed eight people and wounded 26, police and hospital sources said.
A car bomb targeting the health minister's motorcade went off in the central Haifa district, killing two civilians and wounding at least four of the minister's guards, a police source said. His spokesman said five guards were wounded in the attack.
Car and roadside bombs also went off in Baghdad's Amil, Palestine Street and Zaafaraniya districts.
Heightened tension between Shias, Sunnis and Kurds in the fragile coalition government since US troops withdrew in December has raised fears of a return to sectarian violence of the kind that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war a few years ago.
The country is less violent than at the height of that conflict in 2006-07, but bombings and killings still happen daily, often aimed at Shia areas and local security forces.
Kirkuk, home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and others, is at the heart of a long-running dispute between the central government and the autonomous Kurdish region, which claims the city and the region's rich oil reserves.
The rift between Baghdad and the Kurds recently worsened when the Kurdistan Regional Government said it was halting oil exports because the central government was not paying oil firms operating in the north.
The government of prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is anxious to show it can keep the country secure and attract investment following the withdrawal of US troops.
Baghdad hosted an Arab League summit last month, its first for 20 years, and it passed off relatively peacefully amid a massive security lockdown. Some critics say the government is not doing enough to stem the threat from militants.
"They are saying they are changing security plans, they are redeploying troops but it is like they are changing the decorations only," said Ali Al-Haidari, an Iraqi security expert. "Is there any new technology, any new laws supporting the security process? The answer is no. The natural result for that is there are gaps here and there."
A political crisis erupted in Iraq in December when the Shia-led government tried to remove Sunni deputy prime minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and sought an arrest warrant for Sunni vice president Tareq al-Hashemi on charges he ran death squads.
Critics of Mr Maliki viewed the moves against two senior Sunni politicians as an attempt by the Shia premier to consolidate power, and many Sunnis fear he is trying to sideline them from government.
Mr Maliki has said the charges against Mr Hashemi were brought by the judicial system and his supporters say he is following democratic norms, not abusing them.
Elsewhere in northern Iraq, two car bombs targeting government-backed Sunni Sahwa militia went off in Samarra, two blasts hit Baquba, a roadside bomb exploded in Mosul and another roadside device exploded in Taji.
There were also shooting incidents and one policeman was killed in the town of Hadid, 10kms west of Baquba, when gunmen opened fire on the station where he worked from a passing car, police sources said.
In the mainly Sunni Muslim province of Anbar in the west, two car bombs targeting police killed four and wounded 10 in Ramadi while a roadside bomb wounded four people in Falluja.
Attacks in Iraq are mostly blamed on Sunni Arab insurgents who have refused to lay down arms after the withdrawal of US forces in December.