Sunday, March 9, 2014
The Associated Press
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Medics in nearby hospitals confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the day's attacks. Al-Qaida's local franchise in Iraq frequently targets Shiite civilians and security forces in an attempt to undermine public confidence in the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
Saturday's violence came as voters in the northern Kurdish autonomous region cast ballots in local elections for the Kurdistan Regional Government's 111-seat legislature. Iraqi Kurds are looking to bolster their autonomy while insulating their increasingly prosperous enclave from the growing violence roiling the rest of the country.
The pace of violent attacks in parts of Iraq outside the three-province Kurdish region has spiked sharply since security forces carried out a deadly crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq in April. Iraq's minority Sunni Arabs have been protesting against the Shiite-led government since late last year, alleging discrimination and criticizing the application of tough anti-terrorism measures against their sect.
Sunni extremists have been trying to capitalize on those Sunni-Shiite tensions, which are being inflamed by the sectarian divisions reflected in the civil war in neighboring Syria.
The Iraqi branch of al-Qaida is fighting among the largely Sunni rebels in Syria even as it steps up attacks inside Iraq. It earlier this year changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – a name evoking its aim of creating a new Islamic caliphate that ignores regional borders drawn by Western powers.
Mainstream Iraqi political and religious leaders have appealed for calm. Earlier this week, Shiite, Arab Sunni and Kurdish political leaders signed what they called an "honor pact" against the rising violence. The pact calls for safeguarding national unity, political dialogue over political problems, firm action against terrorist activities and a fair distribution of government posts among all Iraqi sects and ethnic groups.
More than 4,000 people have been killed in violent attacks between April and August, United Nations figures show. Another 489 have died so far in September, according to an Associated Press tally.