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56 dead as Iraqis mark end to deadly Ramadan

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Car bombs ripped through Baghdad cafes and markets while blasts and shootings struck elsewhere on Saturday, killing 56 people as Iraqis marked the end of their deadliest Ramadan in years.

The attacks were the latest in spiralling violence that authorities have failed to stem, with the worst bloodshed in five years raising worries of a return to all-out Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands in past years.

The latest violence comes just weeks after brazen assaults, claimed by an Al-Qaeda front group, on prisons near Baghdad that freed hundreds of militants, which analysts warn could boost armed groups.

The violence followed major security operations against militants that officials hailed as having resulted in the killing and capture of many.

Overall, 16 car bombs and a series of shootings and other blasts killed 56 people and wounded more than 250 across the country on Saturday, as Iraqis celebrated the Eid al-Fitr holiday that follows the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

A spate of vehicles rigged with explosives were detonated in eight different neighbourhoods of Baghdad, in apparently coordinated strikes.

The blasts hit public markets, cafes, and restaurants, killing 32 people overall, while violence earlier on Saturday killed two others in the capital, according to security and medical officials

At Baghdad's Al-Kindi hospital, medics treated a man, apparently a soldier, whose face, chest and arms were covered in blood.

Medics sprinted into the hospital pushing people on stretchers, one of them a blanket-swathed man whose eyes were closed. Another man ran behind the stretcher, weeping as it was wheeled into the hospital.

Outside, long lines of cars inched along Baghdad roads, held up by increased security measures that came too late for the dozens of victims.

Also on Saturday, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle near a police checkpoint in Tuz Khurmatu, north of the capital, killing nine people. A car bomb in Kirkuk, also north of Baghdad, killed an engineer.

Two car bombs in the southern city of Nasiriyah killed four, while a car bomb in the shrine city of Karbala left five others dead.

Elsewhere, three people were killed and five others wounded in separate attacks in Babil and Nineveh provinces.

More than 800 people were killed in attacks during Ramadan, which began in the second week of July and ended this week.

Militants struck targets ranging from cafes where Iraqis gathered after breaking their daily fast, to mosques where extended evening prayers were held during the month.

The violence came just weeks after brazen attacks on prisons near Baghdad in which hundreds of inmates were freed.

Analysts, as well as global police organisation Interpol, have warned that the jailbreaks could lead to a rise in attacks, as the escapees were said to include senior Al-Qaeda militants.

Security forces have meanwhile launched major operations, among the biggest since the December 2011 withdrawal of US forces, targeting militants in multiple provinces including Baghdad.

Violence has markedly increased this year, especially since an April 23 security operation at a Sunni Arab anti-government protest site that sparked clashes in which dozens died.

Protests erupted in Sunni-majority areas in late 2012, amid widespread discontent among Sunnis, who accuse the Shiite-led government of marginalising and targeting them.

Analysts say Sunni anger is the main cause of the spike in violence this year.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130810/56-dead-iraqis-mark-end-deadly-ramadan