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BAGHDAD - Bombers struck at Shi'ite pilgrims celebrating a religious festival in Baghdad and across Iraq on Wednesday, killing more than 70 people in one of the bloodiest days since the last US troops left the country in December.
Parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi condemned the bombings as an attempt "to provoke sectarian strife."
With the government's Sunni, Shi'ite and ethnic Kurdish parties already locked in a crisis that threatens to shatter their delicate power-sharing agreement, the attacks revived fears that Iraq risked sliding back into sectarian bloodshed.
At least 30 people were killed when four blasts hit pilgrims across Baghdad as they marched through the city to mark the anniversary of the death of Shi'ite imam Moussa al-Kadhim, a great-grandson of Prophet Mohammad.
"A group of pilgrims were walking and passed by a tent offering food and drinks when suddenly a car exploded near them," said Wathiq Muhana, a policeman whose patrol was stationed near the blast in central Karrada district.
Human remains were scattered across the street, while cars and shops in the area were damaged, an AFP journalist said.
In a separate attack in the mainly Shi'ite southern city of Hilla, police said two simultaneous car bombs, including one detonated by a suicide bomber, exploded outside restaurants used by security forces, killing 22 people.
"When a minibus packed with policemen stopped near the restaurants, a car exploded near the bus," said Maitham Sahib, owner of a restaurant in Hilla near the blast. "It's heart breaking. It is just sirens, and screams of wounded people."
Iraq's renewed violence and political tensions will be closely watched by Sunni Gulf neighbors, and their rival, Shi'ite power Iran, who have meddled in Baghdad's politics in the past as they compete for regional influence.
In total, more than 21 bombs exploded on Wednesday in Baghdad and the southern Iraqi cities of Kerbala, Balad, Haswa, which are predominantly Shi'ite areas that have been targeted before by Sunni Islamist insurgents.
One person was killed when two bombs also hit offices of an ethnic Kurdish party in the northern city of Kirkuk, one of the areas at the heart of dispute between Baghdad's central government and Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region in the north.
A car bomb on the outskirts of Kadhimiya, which security and medical officials said killed at least four people, left a hole two meters (yards) deep in a street, damaged cars and destroyed a number of makeshift houses.
"I could not see for more than two meters because of the smoke and dust," said a resident, Abdul Zahra Abdul Saad, adding that the blast occurred about 5:00 a.m. (0200 GMT).
"I took out three people, two children and an old woman. They were all dead."
Marwan Ibrahim, a 34-year-old journalist who has worked for AFP since 2003, was wounded by a car bomb while reporting on the attacks in Kirkuk.
Earlier this month, 26 people were killed and more than 190 wounded when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-rigged car outside a Shi'ite religious office in Baghdad, an attack claimed by al Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq.
While violence has fallen sharply since the height of the war that followed the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, insurgents are still potent. Large bombings generally still hit once a month, usually on security forces, government offices or Shi'ite targets.
Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is fending off attempts by Sunni, Kurdish and some Shi'ite rivals to organize a vote of no confidence against him. Critics accuse him of failing to fulfill promises to share government posts among the blocks.
Maliki's opponents have for months accused him of monopolizing decision-making and moving toward dictatorship.
A statement on Maliki's website on Wednesday said that he had warned during a meeting of "political differences that ... may negatively affect the security situation."
Kurdistan, which already has its own government and armed forces, but relies on Iraq's oil revenues, has halted its own crude exports and hinted at a full breakaway from Baghdad in protest over what they say is Maliki's authoritarian style. (Additional Agence France-Presse reports from Mohamad Ali Harissi and Laith Hammoudi, and Reuters reports from Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Habib al-Zubaidi and Ali al-Rubaie in Hilla, Jamal al-Badrani in Mosul and Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk)