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Iraq Bomb Attacks Hit Crowded Restaurant, Police Patrol

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BAGHDAD -- Bombs exploded at a crowded Baghdad restaurant and a near police patrol Thursday, among attacks that killed at least 18 people and wounded 53 in Iraq's bloodiest day in more than a month, police and hospital medics said.

Five blasts hit the capital, and the northern city of Mosul was the scene of a fatal shooting attack.

Violence has fallen in Iraq since a wave of sectarian bloodshed in 2006 and 2007, but insurgents carry out frequent attacks on security forces and civilians to undermine the Shiite-led government. The violence threatens the stability of the country following the pullout of U.S. forces in December.

In northwest Baghdad, a parked car exploded outside a busy restaurant in the Shiite neighborhood of Shula, killing 13 people and wounding 37, police officials said.

Naseer Ali, owner of a grocery shop in Shula, said he was about 150 meters (yards) from the restaurant when the blast went off. Ali said he and others rushed to help the victims before the ambulances arrived.

"I was in my shop when I heard a powerful explosion, and everybody rushed to the explosion site," he said. "Part of the restaurant was damaged and the windows of the nearby shops were shattered. We saw several wounded people screaming for help."

Ali said he is worried the level of violence in Baghdad will return to what it was several years ago, in part because of the growing sectarian divide underlying a months-long paralysis of Iraq's government.

"The politicians are busy with their personal ambitions, and the insurgents are making use of this," said Ali, standing on the sidewalk, his shirt stained with blood.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, a parked car blew up near the home of Jamal-Din Mohammed, an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, killing a civilian and wounding four people, including two guards protecting Mohammed's house.

Earlier Thursday, explosions hit two adjacent homes of Baghdad policemen in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Amariyah, killing two people and wounding nine, among them three children. One of the policemen was killed and the other was wounded.

A fifth attack targeted a police patrol in Baghdad, killing a policeman and wounding three officers.

In Mosul, about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, a police major was killed when gunmen sprayed his car with bullets in a drive-by-shooting, police said.

Medics at nearby hospitals confirmed the casualties. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Despite the overall drop in the level of violence, deadly bombings are still common.

On April 19, bombs blew up in 10 Iraqi cities, killing 30 people and wounding more than 110. In Baghdad, 12 people were killed that day, mostly in Shiite neighborhoods.

The political impasse appears to have opened the door to violence. The unity government headed by al-Maliki, a Shiite, has been largely paralyzed since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

There is mounting criticism of al-Maliki within the ruling coalition, over complaints that he is shutting out Iraq's two main minorities – Kurds and Sunni Muslims – in decision-making. However, his opponents appear to fall short of a needed majority in parliament to bring down him down.

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