72 killed in Iraq bomb attacks
A wave of further bombings targeting Shiites in Iraq has killed 72 people amid sectarian tensions which have risen sharply since the last American troops left the country in mid-December.
The co-ordinated attacks targeting Shiites bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents linked to al Qaida, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The bombings began early in the morning when explosions struck two Shiite neighbourhoods in Baghdad, killing at least 27 people. A few hours later, a suicide attack hit Shiite pilgrims heading to the holy Shiite city of Karbala, killing 45, said officials.
The explosions took place near Nasiriyah, about 200 miles south-east of Baghdad.
The blasts occurred in the run-up to Arbaeen, a Shiite holy day which marks the end of 40 days of mourning that follow the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure. During this time, Shiite pilgrims from across Iraq make their way to Karbala, south of Baghdad.
Baghdad military spokesman Maj Gen Qassim al-Moussawi said the aim of the attacks was "to create turmoil among the Iraqi people". The new violence will only exacerbate the country's political crisis, pitting politicians from the Shiite majority who dominate the government against the Sunni minority, which reigned supreme under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
The attacks began in Baghdad with the explosion of a bomb attached to a motorcycle near a bus stop where day labourers gather to look for work in the Shiite Sadr City neighbourhood. That attack was followed by the explosion of a roadside bomb.
Police found a third bomb nearby and defused it. The two Sadr City blasts killed 12 people.
Less than two hours later, two explosions rocked the Shiite neighbourhood of Kazimiyah in the north of the capital, killing 15 people. Officials said the Kazimiyah blasts occurred almost simultaneously, with at least one caused by a car bomb. Hospital officials said more than 60 were wounded in the blasts.
The last US soldiers left Iraq on December 18, ending a nearly nine-year war. Iraqi politicians remain deadlocked in a festering political crisis. Al-Maliki's main political rival, the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, is boycotting parliament sessions and Cabinet meetings to protest at what they say are efforts by the government to consolidate power and marginalise them.