A car bomb exploded Wednesday as worshippers were leaving a Shiite mosque northeast of Baghdad, killing at least 20 people and injuring 32 others, police said.
Also Wednesday, Iraq’s acting parliament speaker said he will convene the legislature next week to push the formation of a new government that is stalled over who will be prime minister.
The blast occurred near the Huweder mosque in a village near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.
A bomb hidden in a truck carrying dates exploded in the same village Oct. 29, killing 30 people.
Rising sectarian tensions have emerged as a significant threat to U.S. efforts to form a stable society in Iraq. Those tensions escalated dramatically after the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.
Other car and roadside bombings killed 13 people, including three U.S. soldiers, and another six civilians were gunned down in Baghdad.
Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni Arab, told a news conference he decided to convene the assembly Monday because “it’s my duty to the Iraqi people in order to preserve the credibility of the democratic process.”
Pachachi added that Shiite politicians told him they hope to have the deadlock over the nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari resolved before the session.
Parliament was elected Dec. 15 but has held only one session because of the dispute over the prime minister.
Khaled al-Attiyah, a member of the Shiite bloc in parliament, said Pachachi’s call for a legislative session Monday was to exert pressure on the Shiites to resolve the dispute over al-Jaafari’s nomination. Al-Attiyah said he did not know whether the Shiites had agreed to attend.
Opposition among sects
As the biggest bloc in parliament, the Shiites have the right to nominate the head of government. But Sunni and Kurdish parties oppose the Shiite choice of al-Jaafari for another term and the Shiites have not agreed whether to replace him.
That has stalled formation of a unity government, which the United States believes is necessary to halt the country’s slide toward anarchy.
Pachachi, a former foreign minister, said he was hopeful for a breakthrough.
“There are indications that cause us to be optimistic,” he said.
President chosen by parliament
Under the constitution, parliament must elect a national president, who in turn designates the nominee of the biggest bloc to form a new government. The prime minister-designate then has 30 days to name a Cabinet, which must be approved by parliament.
The Shiites hold 130 of the 275 seats, not enough to govern or win approval for their nominee without the support of other parties, including the Sunnis and Kurds. Shiite politicians conferred again Wednesday over the al-Jaafari issue.
That triggered a wave of reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics — many of them believed carried out by Shiite militias or death squads operating inside the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry. Hundreds of Shiites have also been killed in attacks since the shrine bombing.
An attack by suicide bombers on a Shiite mosque in Baghdad last week killed 85 people.
In an interview with the BBC, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said the death squads in the country were not linked to the government but to private security forces.
Violence heating up
The Huweder village, where Wednesday’s blast occurred, is in a religiously mixed area of Diyala province. Most of those killed Wednesday were worshippers, but passers-by at a nearby market were also among the casualties, al-Mohammedawi said.
A suicide attacker drove up to a busy vegetable market in the ancient city of Tel Afar and detonated his explosives, killing at least three shoppers and wounding seven, police Brig. Abdul-Hamid Khalaf said.
Tal Afar, about 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, has been singled out by President Bush as a success story for U.S. and Iraqi forces in the drive to quell the insurgency.
A parked car bomb exploded near a medical facility in the city of Khalis north of Baghdad, killing two bystanders and wounding at least 23, police said.
A third car bomb targeting a police patrol in northern Baghdad killed one policeman and two civilians, and wounded four others, police said. A roadside bomb killed two policemen in the town of Sulayman Beg, about 90 north of Baghdad.
34 American deaths this month
Two U.S. soldiers died when their vehicle hit a bomb south of Baghdad, while a third was killed while on a patrol east of the capital, a U.S. statement said.
Including the new deaths, 34 American troops have died in Iraq so far this month — exceeding the 31 killed in all of March, according to an Associated Press count.
At least 2,362 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war in 2003, according to an AP count. The figure includes seven military civilians.
Also in Baghdad, gunmen hunted down three different government employees and shot them dead on their way to work.
Three other civilians, including a photographer, were also killed by gunmen on Baghdad streets, and an attack at a barber shop in the southern Dora district left the owner and a customer wounded, police said.
Several roadside bombs also targeted police patrols in Dora, wounding a dozen policemen and civilians.