BAGHDAD (AP) — A double suicide bombing and other attacks killed 12 people in Iraq on Monday, said officials, while Iraqi legislators passed a law laying the groundwork for next year's parliamentary elections.
Violence has spiked in Iraq since April, with the pace of killing reaching levels unseen since 2008. U.N. figures released last week showed that at least 979 people, mostly civilians, were killed last month alone.
The latest attacks came two days after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki returned from a trip to Washington in which he sought assistance fighting the insurgency, including weapons and help with intelligence.
President Barack Obama pledged Friday to help combat an increasingly active al-Qaida in Iraq but stopped short of announcing new commitments of the assistance al-Maliki sought.
Al-Maliki's trip sparked criticism in Iraq, where he faces discontent from across the sectarian divide. Shiites are upset with his failure to provide security, and Sunnis are angry at their perceived second-class citizen treatment.
One of al-Maliki's harshest critics is Muqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shiite cleric who is also trying to build an alliance with Sunni parties. According to the Iraqi media, Sadr criticized the trip to the country whose troops occupied Iraq from 2003 to 2011, playing on anti-American sentiment that remains strong in many communities.
On Monday, al-Maliki's office lashed back in an unusually harshly worded statement, recalling the human rights abuses of both Sunni insurgents and militias associated with the Sadrist movement.
Sadr "has the right to exercise early electoral campaigning, but he should not belittle the Iraqis' minds and memory... They also remember the control of (Sadr)'s militia that fostered murder, kidnapping and theft in Basra, Karbala, Baghdad and other provinces," the statement said.
In a statement issued on Monday, Iraq's Vice President Khudeir al-Khuzaie set April 30, 2014, as the date for the next national elections. Al-Maliki has not ruled out seeking a third term next year despite charges from opponents that his administration is a dictatorship in the making.
In the evening, Iraq's parliament passed legislation to govern those elections. It increased the number of seats to 328 from the current 325, but otherwise was little different than the previous elections law.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who met with al-Maliki in Washington last week, welcomed the passage of the legislation, saying the elections "give the Iraqi people an opportunity to choose the direction of their country."
"The compromises reached today demonstrate the strength of Iraq's democratic institutions, even in the face of terrorism that seeks to heighten sectarian tension and provoke broader conflict," Biden said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a roadside bomb hit two civilian cars near the town of Taji some 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Baghdad, killing four and wounding three. Police said the road was often used by military convoys.
In the northern town of Hawija, two police officers were killed and seven wounded when two suicide bombers set off their explosive belts at the police station gate.
Gunmen opened fire on a group of government employees waiting for their bus in the northern city of Mosul, killing three people. Also in Mosul, gunmen using pistols with silencers shot dead a judge in a restaurant.
In the northern suburbs of Baghdad, officials said, two soldiers were killed by a hand grenade at a security checkpoint.
Medical officials confirmed all casualty figures. All officials spoke anonymously as they weren't authorized to release information.