Spike of violence in Iraq leaves at least another 12 dead

BAGHDAD — Car bombings and fatal shootings claimed the lives of at least 12 people in Iraq Thursday, marking the second consecutive day of deadly violence after the war-torn country enjoyed a month-long stretch free from it.

The attacks come just as Iraqi officials are preparing to release final results next week from the Jan. 31 provincial elections, which were largely peaceful. Iraq has made security gains in recent months in almost all of Iraq — save the north, where a car bombing and two shootings took place on Thursday. Here, Sunni Arab-Kurd tensions remain precariously high.

The bulk of the attacks occurred in Mosul, Iraq's largest city in the north, and one of the nation's last restive areas. The city is a mix of Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

The first attack happened around 12:30 p.m. Thursday when a car bomb killed four policemen in eastern Mosul. Three others were wounded.

Not even an hour later in Mosul, a lone gunman killed the local chairman of the Sunni-led Gathering for the Iraqi National Project, Abdul Karim al Sharabi, as he drove between his two homes, party leaders said.

"They are the enemies of our project," said Saleh al Mutlaq, head of the Gathering for the Iraqi National Project. "It's the responsibility of the government to find out who did it."

Also in Mosul, gunmen shot and wounded Akram Khalaf, a candidate for the Sunni-led National Movement for Reform and Development. He was taken to the hospital for treatment.

Such attacks point to a recent spike in violence in that city.

Four American soldiers and their interpreter were killed at a checkpoint in Mosul on Monday when a vehicle with a makeshift explosive blew up nearby.

On Wednesday, more than a dozen Iraqis were killed and 43 were wounded in back-to-back car bombings at a bus station in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood in south Baghdad, police said.

Iraqi security forces haven't yet secured Mosul. The city, and areas around it, didn't receive additional U.S. forces during the surge and some U.S. military officials fear that foreign fighters from neighboring Syria will try to move in when U.S. troops withdraw.

In addition, election results could be aggravating sectarian tensions. Mosul is a majority Arab city that had been represented by a mostly Kurdish government. In the Nineveh province, where Mosul is, however, the Kurdish parties in power were defeated in the recent election by the Sunni Arab nationalist party al Hadbaa with 48.8 percent of the vote.

Separately, attacks against the several million Shiite Muslim pilgrims heading to central Iraq have continued abated.

A propane gas tank placed near one of the two holy shrines in downtown Karbala killed seven and injured 35, a government official said. The explosion happened around 4 p.m. near a religious school for aspiring clerics.

"Maybe it was detonated by remote," said Rahman Mishawi, a member of the provincial council.

Millions of Shiite pilgrims have marched on foot to Karbala in recent weeks, The occasion marks Ashura, a sacred holiday spent mourning Imam Hussein, the slain grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

On Thursday, pilgrims lined Baghdad's major thoroughfares. Some conceded they feared future attacks, but added that the journey is more important than that.

"Yes, fear is something that exists in our lives," said Hussein Luabi, 40, clad in black. "But the issue we believe in is much greater than the fear."

Meanwhile, shoppers and vendors eased back into a south Baghdad marketplace and bus station on Thursday, one day after a pair of car bombs tore threw the crowded hub. Fourteen died and 43 were wounded, Iraqi police said.

Amid a light police presence, a bulldozer scooped up big chunks of debris. Bystanders studied the remains of a mini-bus: a tire and a twisted muffler. Vendors tried to move on.

One witness who narrowly escaped flying shrapnel blamed government officials.

"When the politicians disagree among themselves, we're the victims," said the vendor, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisal.

(Daniel reports for the Miami Herald. Nancy Youssef in Washington contributed to this article.)


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