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Wave of Iraq attacks kills 40

17 January, 2013

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KIRKUK: Attacks in Baghdad and northern Iraq killed 40 people on Wednesday as hundreds attended the funeral of an MP who died in a suicide attack a day earlier, amid a political crisis engulfing Iraq.

The violence, which struck mostly in disputed territory in the north and which officials also said left at least 245 people injured, was the deadliest this year.

It comes as Iraq grapples with a long-running political dispute, with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki facing several protests hardening opposition against his rule and calls from many of his erstwhile government partners for his ouster.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks but the militants often carry out waves of violence in a bid to destabilise the government and push the country back toward the sectarian violence that blighted it from 2005 to 2008.

Wednesday's deadliest attacks struck the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, 240 kilometres north of Baghdad. Two car bombs in the same neighbourhood killed at least 19 people and wounded 190 others, provincial health chief Sadiq Omar Rasul said. "Both explosions inflicted massive destruction," said police Brigadier General Sarhad Qader. "Our forces are still trying to remove corpses from the rubble (of the first attack)."

That blast was detonated by a suicide attacker during the morning rush hour and appeared to target a compound housing local offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani.

A second car bomb parked on the side of a road nearby detonated shortly thereafter, apparently targeting a KDP official. Qader said six security force members were killed and 10 wounded in the two blasts.

Another suicide car bomb in the town of Tuz Khurmatu, also north of Baghdad, killed five people and wounded 40 others. It struck near the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Both Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu lie in a tract of disputed territory in north Iraq that Kurdistan wants to incorporate into its autonomous three-province region against the wishes of the central government in Baghdad. The row is regarded by diplomats and officials as the biggest long-term threat to Iraq's stability.

In Baghdad, five attacks left six people dead, officials said, while bombings in Baiji, Hawija and Tikrit, all north of Baghdad, killed three people and wounded seven others.

Wednesday's overall death toll was the highest since December 17, according to an AFP tally.

The latest attacks come a day after the killing of a Sunni Iraqi MP in a suicide bombing west of Baghdad, with hundreds of mourners attending Ayfan al-Essawi's funeral outside the predominantly Sunni town of Fallujah on Wednesday.

Essawi's coffin, covered in an Iraqi flag, was transported atop an SUV that was part of a massive convoy of dozens of vehicles. One person was wounded by a roadside bomb as the procession set off for the cemetery, despite heavy security measures.

The lawmaker was a former leader of the Sahwa, a collection of Sunni tribal militias that turned against Al-Qaeda and sided with the US military from late 2006, helping turn the tide of Iraq's bloody insurgency. Sahwa fighters are regularly targeted for attacks by Sunni militants who view them as traitors.

Meanwhile, Iraq has freed around 400 prisoners since Sunni Arabs began anti-government demonstrations last month, and will press on with more releases on a daily basis, a top minister said on Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani said that a committee formed in the wake of the protests would accelerate the process of reviewing prisoners' cases and would look to immediately release those who had been proven innocent.

Thousands of demonstrators have been rallying in Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq for more than three weeks, protesting the alleged abuse of anti-terror laws by the Shiite-led authorities and demanding the release of prisoners they say were unfairly arrested.

"The release of detainees will continue on daily basis, not just for media purposes," Shahristani told a news conference in Baghdad.

But, he added, "the demonstrations alerted us to the presence of a defect."

Shahristani said authorities had released 70 prisoners on Wednesday, bringing to more than 400 the number of detainees freed in recent weeks.

Officials have not provided any breakdown of the prisoners, and have not given details on how many had finished jail terms and how many had been held without charge.

Shahristani's latest news conference comes two days after he publicly apologised for detainees being held without charge, part of efforts to curb the ongoing rallies.

Anti-government rallies have been ongoing since December 23 in mostly Sunni areas of Iraq, with the longest-running of the protests blocking off a key highway linking Baghdad to Jordan and Syria.


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