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Latest attacks kill 26 in central, western Iraq

| Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, 10:12 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Three blasts — including a suicide bombing in a cafe — killed 26 people in central and western Iraq on Monday evening, officials said. They were the latest attacks in a months-long surge of violence.

In the deadliest of the blasts, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt inside a cafe in Balad, 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing 15 people and wounding 30, police said. Militants frequently attack Shiite civilian targets to undermine the government.

About two hours later, six people were killed and 17 wounded in an explosion near a restaurant in the city of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Late at night, a suicide car bomber drove his vehicle into an army checkpoint near the city of Fallujah, killing five soldiers, police officials said.

Fallujah, a former al-Qaida stronghold, is 40 miles west of Baghdad.

Medical officials in a nearby hospital confirmed the casualty figures.

The latest surge in violence has raised fears that Iraq could be returning to widespread sectarian killings similar to those that brought the country to the edge of civil war in 2006 and 2007.

Meanwhile, al-Qaida's branch in Iraq claimed responsibility for attacks that killed 69 people during the Muslim holiday after the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Saturday's attacks targeted mostly cafes and busy marketplaces. They were part of a wave of bloodshed that has swept Iraq since April, killing more than 3,000 and worsening strained ties between Iraq's Sunni minority and the Shiite-led government.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — as Iraq's al-Qaida affiliate is known — said in a statement on the Internet that the bombings were in retaliation for the arrests of hundreds of Muslims by Iraqi security forces.

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