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Iraq

String of car bombs explode outside of mosques across Baghdad

A series of car bombs have exploded near Shiite mosques across Baghdad following Friday prayer services. The city of Kirkuk also reported a similar attack. The escalation in violence comes ahead of April elections.

Four Shiite mosques were attacked Friday afternoon, according to police. At least 18 worshippers died in the blasts, with dozens more injured.

The attacks occurred in separate districts of Baghdad. The Jihad, Qahira, Zafaraniyah and Binook neighborhoods each reported explosions.

About 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of the capital city, a car bomb struck a mosque in the city of Kirkuk, claiming several lives.

Early estimates of fatalities varied across news agencies.

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Iraqi Shiites have increasingly come under attack from Sunni Islamists linked to Iraq's al Qaeda wing. The militants have targeted the Shiite civilians population, as well as government officials this year in an attempt to undermine Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite government.

Iraq is scheduled to hold elections in the provinces of Anbar and Nineveh on April 20.

Friday's attacks also followed closely after the country marked the 10-year anniversary of the US-led invasion on March 20, 2003. More than 100,000 Iraq civilians were killed during the period.

kms/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)