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More bombs as Iraq works on security, politics

By Mariam Karouny and Claudia Parsons1 hour, 20 minutes ago

Bombs and mortars hit Kirkuk and Baghdad on Wednesday as the Iraqi government prepared to launch a security plan to stem violence as part of what has been billed as a "last chance" to head off civil war.

In a sign the government is scrambling to meet political commitments, too, Iraq's Oil Ministry spokesman said the Oil Committee, grouping senior national and regional leaders, had agreed a final draft of a crucial oil law that sets rules for sharing revenues and boosting output.

A day after one of the bloodiest days in weeks, a suicide bomber driving a truck packed with explosives killed 10 people at a police station in central Kirkuk.

Another bomb ripped through a market in the Sadr City area of Baghdad, killing 15 and wounding 33, police said. Sadr City is the Shi'ite stronghold of the Mehdi Army, a militia loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

In November Sadr City was the scene of the deadliest single attack since the U.S. invasion in 2003, when six coordinated car bombs killed at least 202 people.

Police and residents in Kirkuk said several buildings had collapsed and, a police source said, there were "still people under the rubble."

One resident said he saw many casualties lying in the street and several buildings collapsed.

On Tuesday, bombers killed 70 people, many of them young women students, at a Baghdad university.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Islamist, blamed the Mustansiriya University bombs on loyalists of ex-president Saddam Hussein, whose execution at the end of December fueled sectarian tension.

At least 105 people were killed on Tuesday in bombings and a shooting in the capital on a day when the United Nations said more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians died in violence last year.

Several explosions which police sources said were mortar rounds went off on Wednesday in the Haifa Street area of central Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi forces staged an offensive against Sunni rebels last week. There were no details on casualties.


Sunni Arabs are also angry at the botched execution of two Saddam aides on Monday, two weeks after Saddam was hanged while official observers taunted him and invoked Sadr's name.

Among the coverage of reaction to the latest executions was widely played footage of interviews with students at Mustansiriya who were celebrating the hangings.

The Iraqi government is preparing a crackdown in Baghdad, involving Iraqi and some 20,000 American reinforcements. The crackdown is widely portrayed as a last chance to avert a civil war between Sunnis and Shi'ites that could draw in Shi'ite Iran and Arab states on opposing sides.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wound up her visit to the Gulf on Wednesday after winning support from Arab allies for U.S. plans to deploy more troops.

Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, said however that the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government had to play a role in curbing sectarian violence and that the Shi'ite militias blamed for sectarian killings must be disbanded.

On the political front, there were signs of progress on an oil law, Oil Ministry spokesman Asim Jihad said on Wednesday.

Iraq has the world's third largest proven oil reserves so sharing revenues and establishing whether the industry is controlled centrally or by regions is a sensitive issue for Iraq's Shi'ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

The draft calls for a federal committee headed by the prime minister to oversee all contracts and with the power to review existing deals signed under Saddam or by the Kurdish regional government, Jihad told Reuters, adding the bill would go to the cabinet next week for approval.

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