- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2012

BAGHDAD (AP) — Car bombs ripped through two Iraqi cities on Monday, killing at least 11 people, Iraq officials said, in the latest attacks targeting the country’s Shiites a month after the U.S. military withdrawal.

Violence has surged across Iraq since the last American troops left the country. A string of bombings has left at least 150 people dead since the beginning of the year. Most of the attacks appear aimed at Iraq‘s Shiite majority, suggesting Sunni insurgents are seeking to undermine the Shiite-dominated government.

Iraq also is facing a sectarian political crisis after the Shiite-dominated government charged Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with running death squads, issuing an arrest warrant against him just as the last U.S. soldiers crossed into neighboring Kuwait last month.

The first blast on Monday morning struck a Shiite district outside Mosul, a predominantly Sunni city some 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, police and health officials at Mosul’s Al-Jomhouri Hospital said. Six people were wounded.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

A few hours later, an explosives-laden car detonated inside an industrial zone of the predominantly Shiite town of Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 15, according to a local police spokesman, Muthana Khalid.

A member of the Mosul local council, Qusai Abbas, said the car bomb blew up near a group of houses where members of the Shabak minority have settled since being driven out of Mosul by Sunni militants during fierce sectarian fighting a few years ago.

The Shabaks are ethnic Turkomen and Shiite Muslims. Most of them live in villages east of Mosul, the provincial capital of the ethnically mixed Ninevah province, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim.

Mosul has been a hub for al Qaeda in Iraq in past years. Other Sunni insurgent groups have battled Kurdish militias for control over the city, Iraq‘s third largest, killing thousands of civilians in suicide bombings and shootings.

Hundreds of Christians, Yazeedis and members of other minority groups have been driven out Mosul in recent years as militants used violence and intimidation to tip the ethnic and religious balance into their group’s favor.

Mr. Abbas, who represents the Shabak community in the local council, said three children and four women were among those killed in Monday’s attack. He said Iraqi security forces have failed to protect people from violence, and he blamed politicians “who want to stir up sectarian fighting again.”

“Some politicians are trying to use sectarian hatred to make political gains,” Mr. Abbas said.

The government crisis taps into the resentments that have remained raw in the country, despite years of efforts to overcome them. Minority Sunnis fear the Shiite majority is squeezing them out of any political input, and Shiites suspect Sunnis of links to insurgency and terrorism.

Mr. al-Hashemi denied charges against him and fled to the autonomous Kurdish region, out of reach of authorities in Baghdad.

On Sunday, a court in Baghdad ruled that Mr. al-Hashemi must stand trial on terror charges in Baghdad, in which he fears he would be in danger. The court rejected his request to be tried in the ethnically mixed city in Kirkuk, where he believes he could get a fair trial.

Associated Press writer Barbara Surk contributed to this report.

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