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22 killed in wave of Iraq attacks

01 January, 2013

BAGHDAD (AFP) - A wave of bombings and shootings across Iraq killed 22 people on Monday as the country grappled with anti-government rallies and simmering political crises ahead of major Shia commemoration rituals.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in more than a dozen towns and cities that wounded 83 people, but militants such as Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq regularly target officials and security forces in a bid to destabilise the government, and also often attack Shia pilgrims.

The violence comes after anti-government protesters blocked a key highway to Syria and Jordan, amid political tensions between Shia Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and a secular Sunni-backed party in his fragile national unity government.

Much of Monday's violence targeted Shia pilgrims, ahead of Arbaeen commemoration ceremonies due this week.

In the deadliest attack, seven people - three women, two children and two men - were killed when three houses were blown up in the town of Mussayib, south of Baghdad, police and a medic said. Four others were wounded. The victims were apparently targeted because they were Shias, the officials said. Shia pilgrims embarking on the traditional walk to the holy shrine city of Karbala were hit by three mortar strikes south of Baghdad that killed one worshipper and wounded nine others.

A series of attacks in restive Diyala province, north of Baghdad, wounded 19 people, including 10 Shia pilgrims who were walking to Karbala.

Attacks in Baghdad and north of the city, meanwhile, killed 12 people. In the capital's central commercial district of Karrada, a car bomb detonated by a suicide attacker left at least four dead and 20 others wounded, security and medical officials said.

Authorities quickly cordoned off the scene of the blast and barred journalists from entering or taking photos and videos. A series of bombings in the ethnically mixed northern city of Kirkuk and nearby towns killed five policemen and wounded 11 other people, local officials said.

And in the main northern city of Mosul, two policemen guarding an election centre were gunned down, while one policeman was killed and another wounded by a roadside bomb in Tuz Khurmatu.

South of Baghdad, a car bombing outside government offices killed two people as the provincial governor was arriving. The blast also wounded 19 people, including a guard for the governor of Babil province and one of his photographers, a policeman and a medic said. The governor himself was unharmed.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi authorities on Monday called for an end to what a senior official said were illegal and illegitimate protest rallies in Sunni-majority provinces that have cut key trade routes.

The remarks released by the office of Ali al-Alaak, cabinet secretary general, came as protests blocking a key highway linking Iraq to Syria and Jordan entered a ninth day and authorities north of Baghdad declared general strikes.

A statement posted on Alaak's office website acknowledged that the constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, assembly and dissent, but added that such freedoms must be practised "in a way that does not oppose public order."

"These should not be carried out without the knowledge of authorities and their permission," it said. "What is happening now... is breaking the law and the constitution."

It said government employees must disregard a call from provincial authorities for a general strike aimed at pushing for the release of prisoners. "All government offices in the provinces should not obey these illegitimate orders, or they will be held legally responsible," it said. Nineveh province's three-day general strike extends to Tuesday, while Samarra, in Salaheddin province, began its own strike on Monday.

Protesters in Anbar province, meanwhile, blocked off the country's main highway to Syria and Jordan for a ninth straight day.

End.

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