String of bombings kill 23 in Iraq

Four car bombs and a suicide attack targeting Iraqi markets and cafes on Monday killed at least 23 people, the latest in a surge in violence that authorities have struggled to control.

Thirteen people were killed and 53 wounded when two near-simultaneous car bombs and a suicide attack tore through a wholesale market north of Baghdad, a police officer and a medic said.

The blasts went off in the predominantly Shiite town of Judaida al-Shat, which lies just west of Baquba, capital of Diyala province and one of the most violent areas in the country.

The attacks targeted fruit and vegetable stall owners who were crowding the market, purchasing goods for the day's trading.

Another car bomb exploded near a fish market near Taji on the northern edge of Baghdad, killing at least seven people, while a vehicle rigged with explosives also went off in the northern town of Tuz Khurmatu, killing three others.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda often target Shiite Muslims, whom they regard as apostates, in simultaneous and mass-casualty bombings.

"Al-Qaeda is behind this terrorist attack," Mohammed al-Zaidi, a vegetable vendor wounded in the Judaida al-Shat bombing told AFP, adding that the extremist group was trying to "sow religious hatred in our region, as we live peacefully with the Sunnis".

The unrest comes amid a surge in attacks in Iraq, with violence in May pushing the month's death toll to the highest such figure since 2008, raising concerns of a revival of the all-out sectarian war that blighted the country in 2006 and 2007.

There has been a heightened level of attacks since the beginning of the year, coinciding with rising discontent among the Sunni Arab minority that erupted into protests in late December.

Analysts say the failure of the Shiite-led authorities to address underlying frustrations among the Sunni community has given fuel and room for militants to increase their activities.

The UN envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler has warned the violence is "ready to explode".

In a bid to ease tensions, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has in recent days met with two of his arch rivals -- the Sunni speaker of parliament and the president of the autonomous Kurdish region.

While the country's top politicians have pledged to address persistent political disputes, which analysts say are linked to violence levels, no tangible moves have yet been announced.