Five Iraq car bombs kill 16

Five car bombs exploded Monday in mainly Shiite areas south of Baghdad, killing 16 people, officials said, the latest attacks in a seven-day wave of violence costing more than 230 lives across Iraq.

The bloody unrest, which began last Tuesday with deadly clashes between security forces and Sunni Arab anti-government protesters in north Iraq, has raised fears of a return to an all-out sectarian conflict.

In the deadliest attack on Monday, two car bombs exploded in Amara in south Iraq, killing seven people and wounding 45, a senior police officer and a doctor said.

Three other car bombs blew up in Mahmudiyah, Karbala and Diwaniyah, leaving nine people killed, police and medics said, adding that the five bombings also left 100 people wounded.

The latest wave of violence began as security forces clashed with Sunni anti-government protesters near the northern Sunni Arab town of Hawijah, killing 53 people.

The protesters have called for Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's resignation and railed against authorities for allegedly targeting their community with wrongful detentions and accusations of involvement in terrorism.

Subsequent unrest, including heavy fighting that saw gunmen temporarily take control of the town of Sulaiman Bek, north of Baghdad, killed dozens more and brought the seven-day death toll to more than 230 on Monday.

So far this month, more than 450 people have been killed and over 1,150 wounded in violence across Iraq, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.

As the latest wave of unrest gripped Iraq, tensions also rose as security forces from the autonomous Kurdistan region deployed to new areas of the disputed northern province of Kirkuk, in what a top Iraqi army officer termed an attempt to move into oil fields.

"They want to reach (Kirkuk's) oil wells and fields," Staff General Ali Ghaidan Majeed, the commander of Iraqi ground forces, said on Saturday.

He said the deployments were a "dangerous development" and violated an agreement that Kurdish and Iraqi forces would man joint checkpoints.

Oil-rich Kirkuk province is a key part of territory that Kurdistan wants to incorporate over strong objections from the federal government in Baghdad, a dispute diplomats and officials say is a major threat to long-term stability.

Maliki is expected to meet with Kurdistan premier Nechirvan Barzani in Baghdad on Monday for talks likely to focus on various disputes between the two sides, including territorial issues and oil contracts Kurdistan has signed without Baghdad's approval.