60 killed in Iraq violence

BAGHDAD: Iraq was engulfed on Thursday by a wave of violence, with suicide and bomb attacks killing 23 people a day after a massive bomb devastated a Baghdad Shiite neighbourhood slaughtering 40 civilians.

The main target of Thursday's attacks was Baghdad, where a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a crowded market in southern Dora neighbourhood, killing at least 12 people and wounding 25, security officials said.

The bomber targeted a US patrol that was passing through a popular Assyrian market in the confessionally mixed neighbourhood, officials from the interior and defence ministry told AFP.

The market attack came soon after a bomb exploded in a rubbish bin inside a Baghdad police station, killing three policeman and injuring 20, among then 12 officers and eight civilians, officials told AFP.

The day began on a bloody note when a suicide bomber killed eight members of an anti-Qaeda militia early morning in the tense northern city Kirkuk as they were lining up to receive their salaries, police said.

The attacks in two of Iraq's largest urban centres come as the US military prepares to decamp from the nation's cities and towns by June 30 and ahead of a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.

The bloodletting has sparked fears of a return of Al-Qaeda-style attacks aimed at reigniting the sectarianism that swept the country two years ago.

Iraqi vice president Tarek al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, called Thursday for national unity in the wake of the violence.

"The evil and criminal powers are back once again to continue their criminal actions against our patient people," he said in a statement.

"We call upon our people to unite, to not give in to the enemies of Iraq who are trying to undermine our unity."

The bombing in Kirkuk occurred inside a building under the control of the Iraqi army, where anti-Qaeda fighters, known as Sahwa, or Awakening, had gathered to receive the pay cheques, police major Salam Zangana told AFP.

"A suicide bomber dressed in a Sahwa uniform blew himself up at a Sahwa gathering near Kirkuk's technical college. They were waiting to receive their salaries," he said.

Thursday's attacks follow a huge car bomb blast in a Shiite neighbourhood in Baghdad on Wednesday evening that killed at least 40 people and injured 83.

Diners and shoppers were enjoying a night out at the Al-Sadrain interchange that is popular for its eateries and shops when the powerful bomb went off.

The blast in Shula, a poor Shiite neighbourhood in northwestern Baghdad, marked the bloodiest attack since April 29 when more than 50 people -- also in mostly Shiite districts of the capital -- were killed in a wave of synchronised bombings.

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest wave of bombings but Al-Qaeda insurgents regularly target civilians and also try to kill Sahwa members, whom it brands traitors, especially in ethnically mixed parts of Iraq such as Kirkuk.

The oil-rich city, which has a Kurdish majority but substantial Arab and Turkmen minorities, has been the frequent scene of deadly ethnic tension since Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was toppled in the 2003 US-led invasion.

The Sahwa movement began in late 2006 when local tribes and former insurgents started turning on Al-Qaeda in Iraq and allying with the US military, and today it counts about 92,000 fighters across the country.

The militias, made up of local tribes and former insurgents known have played a crucial role in ousting the Islamists of Al-Qaeda from their former strongholds.

April saw a string of deadly attacks in Shiite and mixed neighbourhoods of the capital that were reminiscent of attacks that occurred at the height of Iraq's sectarian fighting in 2006.

Despite a surge in violence last month, Iraq has insisted that the US pullout timetable outlined in a landmark security pact signed with Washington in November, will not be affected.