A series of seemingly coordinated bomb attacks in Iraq has killed at least nine people in the northern province of Kirkuk on the eve of a religious festival. Another five died further south, in the city of Hilla.
Several bomb attacks were reported to have taken place on Wednesday morning, with the deadliest taking place in and around the city of Kirkuk, some 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of the capital, Baghdad.
In Kirkuk, two car bombs and a roadside bomb exploded, killing five people and wounding 34 others. There was only a short space of time between each successive blast.
A police officer told the AP news agency that the spate of attacks began with a parked car bomb explosion near the offices of a Kurdish political party. This was followed by another detonation as police gathered at the site, with that blast killing five.
Meanwhile, in the town of Hawijah, at least four people were reported dead after an Iraqi army patrol was caught up in a car-bomb blast.
In the southern city of Hilla, 100 kilometers south of Baghdad, at least four people were killed in a car bombing, police and medical sources said.
"A car bomb exploded near a secondary school for girls and a crowded poultry market, leaving four dead, including innocent students. It's a real vicious terrorist act," local official Hamza Kadhim told Reuters news agency.
Another car bomb killed one person and wounded six others in Baghdad's Firdos Square, the site made famous in 2003 when Iraqis pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein soon after the US-led invasion.
The violence comes a day before Muharram, the Islamic new year.
While violence in Iraq has declined dramatically since its peak in 2006 and 2007, Sunni militants are still known to carry out attacks aimed at destabilizing the Shiite-led government, its institutions and supporters. Local al Qaeda operatives are also alleged to have instigated attacks aimed at exacerbating the problem of sectarian division.
rc/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
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