Iraq bombings targeting protesters and pilgrims kill 14

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Bombings targeting protesters and pilgrims outside of Baghdad killed 14 people on Tuesday, the latest in a surge of violence that has sparked fears of a revival of all-out sectarian conflict in Iraq.

The latest attacks come a day after 35 people were killed nationwide, most of them in a series of car bombs across Baghdad, as the country grapples with a prolonged political deadlock and months of protests from its Sunni Arab minority.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda frequently target Shiite Muslims - both the protesters and the pilgrims were from Iraq’s Shiite majority - whom they regard as apostates.

Tuesday’s deadliest attack struck the ethnically-mixed town of Tuz Khurmatu, which lies in a tract of territory in north Iraq that Kurdistan wants to incorporate into its three-province autonomous region over Baghdad’s objections.

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside a tent packed with Shiite Turkmen protesters in the town, killing at least 11 people and wounding 55 others, the town’s interim mayor and a doctor said.

Among the dead were a former deputy provincial governor and his two sons, as well as a former provincial councilor.

The protesters had been rallying over poor security in the town, which is regularly hit with attacks.

Disputed land

The unresolved dispute over the land, which stretches from Iraq’s eastern border with Iran to its western frontier with Syria, is cited by diplomats as one of the biggest threats to the country’s long-term stability.

Analysts often voice worry that the tensions could spill over into open conflict between central government forces and Kurdish troops.

Also on Tuesday, a magnetic “sticky bomb” attached to a minibus went off as Shiite pilgrims were on their way to the holy shrine city of Karbala for Shabaniyah commemorations, which mark the anniversary of the birth of Imam Mehdi, the so-called 12th imam and a key figure in Shiite Islam.

Three people were killed and 15 were wounded when the bomb went off near the town of Iskandiriyah, south of Baghdad, police and a doctor said.

Early Tuesday morning, meanwhile, gunmen wounded two guards outside an Assyrian church in east Baghdad.

Tuesday’s attacks struck a day after a wave of car bombs across the Iraqi capital and unrest north of Baghdad killed 35 people, with the country struggling with a prolonged political deadlock and violence at its worst levels since 2008.

Attacks have increased markedly since the beginning of the year, coinciding with rising discontent among the Sunni Arab minority that erupted into protests in late December.

Analysts say a failure by the Shiite-led authorities to address the underlying causes of the demonstrations has given militant groups both a recruitment platform and room to maneuver.

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