Bombings kill at least 15 in Shi'ite areas of Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AFP) - A series of bombings mainly targeting Shi'ite areas of Baghdad killed at least 15 people on Sunday, officials said, the latest to hit Iraq as it struggles with protests and a political crisis.

Three car bombs struck Sadr City in the north of the city, while one car bomb each exploded in Ameen, Al-Husseiniyah and Kamaliyah in the east, and a roadside bomb blew up in Karrada in central Baghdad.

Another exploded in Saidiyah in the capital's south, security and medical officials said. At least 15 people were killed and more than 80 wounded in the attacks across the city, the officials said.

Security forces searched cars at the main entrance to Sadr City and helicopters overflew the area, an AFP journalist reported.

Sunday's attacks bring the number of people killed in violence this month to at least 150, according to an AFP tally based on reports from security and medical officials nationwide.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the latest wave of attacks.

But Sunni militants linked to the Al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq often target the Shi'ite majority in a bid to erode confidence in the central government and push the country back towards the bloody sectarian conflict of 2006-2007.

The Baghdad bombings follow multiple attacks on Saturday that killed five people, including the head of Iraq's intelligence academy.

Two suicide bombers killed Brigadier General Aouni Ali and two of his guards, and more bombings resulted in the deaths of a judge and an army lieutenant.

Members of the security forces and judicial officials are also often targeted by militants in Iraq.

These latest incidents in a spike in violence come as Iraq grapples with nearly two months of anti-government protests centred on Sunni-majority areas in north and west Iraq, calling for the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, and a festering political crisis in the capital.

The demonstrations were initially sparked in December by the arrest of several guards of Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi, a leading Sunni.

The longest-running protests have blocked off a key trade route linking Baghdad to both Jordan and Syria.

As the demonstrations have since expanded markedly, the government has sought to curtail them by saying it has released thousands of detainees and raised the salaries of Sunni militiamen battling Al-Qaeda extremists.

It has also restricted movements in major cities on Fridays, when the largest protests are staged.

Maliki, meanwhile, has been tussling with a political crisis that has pitted him against many of his government partners barely two months before provincial elections, the country's first since March 2010 parliamentary polls.

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