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Car bomb blast kills 7 in Sadr City

Iraqi officials say seven young people were killed when a parked car exploded near a cafe in the Sadr City slum in eastern Baghdad.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A bomb in a parked car ripped through a Sadr City neighborhood Wednesday evening, killing seven young people who had gathered at a nearby cafe to drink tea and play dominoes, Iraqi officials said.

The attack comes just days after a string of shootings and bombings convulsed the country in Iraq's worst violence so far this year. The violence appears designed to stir up sectarian tensions at a time when Iraq still has no new government after inconclusive parliamentary elections and as U.S. troops prepare to go home.

Police and hospital officials said the blast took place near a popular cafe where young people were gathered.

The casualty information was given by a police officer and an official at the hospital where the wounded were taken. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

Sadr City is the eastern Baghdad stronghold of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the scene of one of Iraq's most deadly attacks this year. Insurgents in April targeted worshippers gathered for Friday prayers in a string of explosions that killed 72 people, mostly near Shiite mosques and places of worship in Baghdad.

Earlier on Wednesday, three people were killed and 23 were wounded in northwest Baghdad when a booby-trapped body exploded near a grocery store.

A police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media said the body was left near a shop and exploded after people gathered around.

The Wednesday attacks come as Iraqi security officials have been carrying out raids and searches in areas such as Hillah and Basra, following a wave of violence Monday that unfolded throughout the day and stretched from Mosul in the north all the way to Basra in the south; at least 119 people were killed in the bombings and shootings in what was Iraq's bloodiest day this year.

Iraq has yet to seat a government — or even finalize the results — following the March 7 election in which Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki narrowly lost out to secular challenger Ayad Allawi, who had strong Sunni support.

But with no political bloc gaining enough seats to form a majority, a period of intense political maneuvering has ensued as both sides try to get enough support to form a government.

As the election morass stretches out, many have warned that insurgents may try to launch new and deadly attacks in order to reignite the sectarian fighting that once hit Iraq daily.

Meanwhile, a committee charged with vetting officials for ties to Saddam Hussein's regime said it would not ban any more candidates from the disputed election, officials said Wednesday.

The Shiite-dominated committee has played havoc with Iraq's parliamentary elections by trying to bar hundreds of candidates from the race.

Sunnis, who were dominant under Saddam, maintain that the commission is biased and operating on a sectarian agenda to exclude them from the political process.

Ali al-Lami, the executive officer of the committee, said it would not pursue any other cases against candidates.

However, there were conflicting accounts on the status of nine candidates the committee was trying to bar who had actually won seats in the election.

Al-Lami said a decision on their fate would be made in a few days by a court and that he expected they would be barred. But a spokesman for the commission president, Ahmad Chalabi, said the committee was no longer pursuing any action against the nine candidates and that he expected they would be able to take their parliament seats.

The conflicting accounts could not immediately be resolved.

The decision on whether to bar the nine candidates, most linked to Allawi's Sunni-backed political list that won the most parliamentary seats, has emerged as one of the most contentious issues amid the turmoil that erupted after the election failed to produce a clear winner.

A ruling could tilt the balance in favor of al-Maliki and has raised concerns about a new round of violence if Sunnis, who were at the heart of the insurgency, feel disenfranchised.

The decision on the nine candidates has been one of the factors delaying the final certification of the election results, in addition to a recount for Baghdad demanded by al-Maliki; election officials say it will be completed by Friday.