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updated 5/21/2010 2:20:52 PM ET 2010-05-21T18:20:52

A car bomb exploded Friday at an open-air market in a Shiite town northeast of Baghdad, killing 23 people and wounding more than 50, Iraqi police and hospital officials said.

The bombing struck the town of Khalis, north of Baghdad, a former al-Qaida in Iraq stronghold that has seen several powerful blasts. In March, twin bombings struck a restaurant in the same town, killing 57.

Khalis is a Shiite enclave in the largely Sunni province of Diyala.

The dead and wounded were taken to the nearby city of Baqouba, said city officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. Baqouba is the provincial capital of Diyala.

While violence has fallen dramatically in Iraq since the height of the insurgency in 2006 and 2007, there are fears that militants are taking advantage of political uncertainty after an inconclusive election to try to destabilize the country.

Shiites were also the main targets in a string of attacks across the country two weeks ago that killed 119 people, the worst day of violence this year.

A Sunni-backed coalition won the most seats in Iraq's March 7 parliamentary election. But there are concerns that Sunnis could still end up largely excluded from power after two Shiite blocs made an alliance that will likely lead to them forming the next government.

Sunni anger over being largely excluded from government after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 was seen as a key reason behind sectarian violence that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war during the insurgency.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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