Five car bombs kill at least 18 in Iraq

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Five car bombs mainly targeting Shiite areas south of Baghdad killed 18 people on Monday, officials said, as Iraq’s parliament speaker demanded the government’s resignation and early elections.

Meanwhile Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met Nechirvan Barzani, the premier of the autonomous Kurdistan region, and they both agreed to enhance security coordination after the deployment of Kurdish forces in the disputed province of Kirkuk sharply raised tensions.

In the deadliest attack on Monday, two car bombs exploded in Amara in south Iraq, killing seven people and wounding 45, a senior police officer and a doctor said.

Three other car bombs detonated in Mahmudiyah, Karbala and Diwaniyah, leaving 11 people dead, police and medical sources said, adding that the five bombings also wounded 100 people.

The latest wave of violence began on April 23 when security forces clashed with Sunni anti-government protesters near the northern Sunni Arab town of Hawijah in north Iraq, killing 53 people.

The protesters have called for the resignation of Maliki, a Shiite, and railed against authorities for allegedly targeting their community with wrongful detentions and accusations of involvement in terrorism.

Subsequent unrest killed dozens more and brought the seven-day death toll to more than 240 on Monday.

So far this month, more than 450 people have been killed and over 1,150 wounded in violence across Iraq, according to AFP figures based on tolls from security and medical sources.

The latest bout of violence has raised fears that Iraq could return to all-out sectarian conflict, which plagued the country in past years.

On Monday, parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni and leading member of the secular, Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which has long been at odds with Maliki, demanded that the government resigns.

Nujaifi said the government should be replaced by a smaller cabinet of independent figures, who would not stand in the next elections, and he called on the electoral commission to prepare for early polls and for parliament to then be dissolved.

The initiative is aimed at “national reconciliation and maintaining the gains of democracy,” as well as “sparing the country from the specter of civil war and sectarian strife,” a statement from Nujaifi’s office said.

Iraq’s next parliamentary elections are scheduled in 2014.

Ali Mussawi, Maliki’s spokesman, said the premier supported dissolving parliament, but that the legislature must go before the government.

“We support dissolving the parliament,” Mussawi told AFP.

But he said the order suggested by Nujaifi was “unconstitutional,” and that the appropriate procedure was for parliament to be dissolved and the current government to continue in a caretaker role until new elections are held.

Tensions also rose last week after Kurdish peshmerga security forces deployed to new areas of the disputed northern province of Kirkuk, in what a top Iraqi army officer termed an attempt to move into oil fields.

“They want to reach (Kirkuk’s) oil wells and fields,” Staff General Ali Ghaidan Majeed, the commander of Iraqi ground forces, said on Saturday.

Oil-rich Kirkuk province is a key part of territory that Kurdistan wants to incorporate over strong objections from the federal government in Baghdad, a dispute diplomats and officials say is a major threat to long-term stability.

Maliki met Barzani in Baghdad on Monday for talks on disputes between the two sides, a statement from the premier’s office said.

According to the statement, they agreed to strengthen coordination on security and to work on passing key legislation, such as a law regulating Iraq’s oil and gas sector, which has languished in parliament for years.

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