Middle East

Iraq bombings kill 17 on eve of Muharram and Ashura

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Media captionPictures from Baghdad and Kirkuk show the extent of the damage

At least 17 people have been killed and dozens wounded in bombings across Iraq, on the eve of the Islamic new year and the holy month of Muharram.

Six car bombs and roadside devices exploded in the capital, Baghdad, and four other cities, the AFP news agency cited officials as saying.

In the deadliest attack, at least three bombs went off simultaneously in Kirkuk, killing at least five people.

Muharram is an important part of the Shia Muslim religious calendar.

During its first 10 days, millions will commemorate the martyrdom in 680AD (61 in the Islamic calendar) of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala. The mourning culminates in the festival of Ashura.

Shia religious events have in the past frequently been targeted by extremist Sunni Islamist militant groups, including al-Qaeda in Iraq.

'No security'

No group has said it was behind Wednesday's bombings, most of which occurred in the ethnically-mixed, oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk.

Police said the attacks in Kirkuk city started with a car bomb explosion near the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by the president of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani.

As security forces and bystanders gathered at the scene, there was a second blast, leaving at least five people dead and 34 wounded.

"My child was killed! His friends were killed!" Shukriyah Rauf screamed after the blast, according to AFP. "There is no security here, our homes were destroyed!"

A separate attack in Kirkuk wounded seven street cleaners.

"The car bomb targeted our friends - they are not police, soldiers or politicians," said Jassim al-Obeidi. "They just wanted to make a little money."

Another car bomb targeted an army patrol in the nearby, predominantly Sunni town of Hawija, killing at least four people.

In the town of Hilla, south of Baghdad, a vehicle packed with explosives blew up near a girls' secondary school and a crowded poultry market, leaving at least six people dead and dozens wounded, among them reportedly schoolchildren.

A blast was also reported in the town of Bald Ruz, in the central province of Diyala.

In the capital, Baghdad, one person was killed and at least six were wounded in a series of blasts.

One of the explosions went off near the Palestine and Ishtar Sheraton hotels, two of the city's biggest, shattering nearby windows. Another blast was reported in the central Firdous Square.