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Fresh car bombings rock Baghdad

Three car bombs have exploded in Baghdad, killing at least 17 people, authorities said.

At least one blast appeared to target Shiite pilgrims in the Iraqi capital, sinking the country deeper into a new wave of sectarian violence.

A second car bomb struck near a police vehicle in the Shiite neighbourhood of al-Shaab, killing three policemen and four other people, police and hospital officials said. Earlier in the day, a roadside bomb killed two Shiite pilgrims in a Baghdad suburb.

The attacks were the latest in a wave of violence primarily targeting Shiites that has killed more than 90 people in less than a week.

Security forces discovered a third car bomb in a predominantly Sunni area in western Baghdad later in the evening. It exploded while sappers were trying to defuse it, killing a soldier, officials said.

The leaders of Iraq's rival sects have been locked in a stand-off since last month, when authorities in the Shiite-dominated government called for Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashemi's arrest on terrorism charges just as the last American troops were withdrawing from the country. Al-Hashemi is Iraq's highest ranking Sunni politician.

The political crisis pits the leaders of the country's mostly ethnic and sectarian-based party blocs against each other. Iraq's

Sunni minority dominated the government under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, but since he was overthrown, Shiites have controlled government.

Many fear the crisis will push Iraq toward a renewal of the large-scale sectarian warfare that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006-07.

Al-Hashemi fled several weeks ago to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, where he is effectively out of reach of state security forces. He said that the demand by Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki that he be turned over for trial in Baghdad is hurting efforts to end the crisis.

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