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69 killed in wave of Baghdad bombs

A wave of 16 bombings ripped across Baghdad, killing at least 69 people in the worst violence in Iraq for months.

The apparently co-ordinated attacks came days after the last American forces left the country and in the midst of a major government crisis between Shiite and Sunni politicians which has sent sectarian tensions soaring.

The bombings may be linked more to the US withdrawal than the political crisis, but all together the developments heighten fears of a new round of Shiite-Sunni sectarian bloodshed like the one a few years back that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the bombings bore all the hallmarks of al Qaida's Sunni insurgents.

Most appeared to hit Shiite neighbourhoods, although some Sunni areas were also targeted. In all, 11 areas were hit by either car bombs, roadside blasts or sticky bombs attached to cars. There was at least one suicide bombing and the blasts went off over several hours.

Co-ordinated campaigns such as this generally take weeks to plan, and could have been timed to coincide with the end of the American military presence in Iraq, possibly to undercut US claims that they are leaving behind a stable and safe Iraq. Al Qaida has long sought to sow chaos and provoke the type of Shiite militant counterattacks that defined Iraq's insurgency.

At least 14 blasts went off in the morning and there were two more in the evening.

The deadliest attack was in the Karrada neighbourhood, where a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden vehicle blew himself up outside the office of a government agency fighting corruption. Two police officers at the scene said the bomber was driving an ambulance and told guards that he needed to get to a nearby hospital. After the guards let him through, he drove to the building where he blew himself up, the officers said.

Sirens wailed as ambulances rushed to the scene and a large plume of smoke rose over the area. The blast left a crater about five yards wide in front of the five-storey building, which was singed and blackened. At least 25 people were killed and 62 injured in that attack, officials said.

Figures gathered from Iraqi health and police officials across the city put the death toll at 69, and 169 injured, including the two evening blasts in western Baghdad neighbourhoods which killed nine people and injured 21.

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